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King James Version
by D. Kelly Ogden
In various lands where The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been established, it uses a translation of the Bible in the local language. In English-speaking areas, the Church uses the King James (or Authorized) Version (KJV), mainly because it was the basic English text used by the Prophet Joseph Smith and because subsequent Church leaders have approved its use. The Church does not claim that the KJV is perfect, but it is currently the preferred English version and was used in the Church's 1979 edition and later printings of the Bible.
The books of the Bible were originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek. No original biblical manuscripts exist today, but they were copied and translated into many languages in antiquity. Many early papyri and parchments have survived. From those records, numerous modern translations have been made.
From 1604 to 1611, some fifty-four scholars worked to produce the KJV of the Bible. This was not the first English translation. In 1382, John Wycliffe translated the Bible from the Latin Vulgate; a revised edition was published in 1388. From 1523 to 1530, William Tyndale translated the Pentateuch from Hebrew and the New Testament from Greek. Still later in the 1500s, other translations appeared, including the Protestant Geneva Bible in 1560 and the Bishops' Bible in 1568. The former became popular with the laity and the latter with Protestant bishops. The Catholic Rheims-Douai Bible was finished in 1609 (1582 New Testament, 1609 Old Testament), based on the Latin Vulgate.
In an attempt to heal differences between Anglicans and Puritans, King James I appointed a body of scholars to produce a version of the Bible to be authorized for use in the English churches. They used the best texts available to them, mainly the "Received Text of the New Testament in the multilanguage ("polyglot") editions, presenting the Old and New Testaments in Hebrew and Greek respectively, and other languages. The long and respected line of English Bibles was also diligently compared and used.
The resulting King James Version was published in 1611. Various editions of the KJV appeared throughout the 1600s, which resulted in many printing inaccuracies. The Cambridge (1762) and Oxford (1769) editions featured a revised text, updated spelling, corrected punctuation, increased italics, and changed marginal notes.
Many other English versions have appeared, especially in light of the discovery of additional early manuscripts, beginning with Constantin von Tischendorf's first find at St. Catherine's Monastery in the Sinai peninsula in 1844. These translations have generally endeavored to render the ancient texts into contemporary usage while reflecting the form of the oldest available manuscripts as much as possible.
Latter-day Saints have not made extensive use of these other translations. Many feel that popularization tends to dilute the sacred nature of the Bible. They also find the ancient textual variants to be relatively insignificant, usually not changing the important messages of the Bible, most of which, in any event, are corroborated elsewhere in LDS scripture.
Although the KJV was Joseph Smith's English Bible, he did not regard it as a perfect or official translation; this is why he studied Hebrew and undertook the task of producing an inspired revision of the scriptures. He commented that he preferred some aspects of the Martin Luther translation (HC 6:307, 364), and several other nineteenth-century Church leaders stressed the need for greater accuracy and truth in Bible translations.
Twentieth-century Church leaders have given a variety of reasons for the continued use of the KJV: it was the common translation in use in the English-speaking world at the time of the Restoration; its language prevails in all the standard works; a large number of passages in the Book of Mormon, which parallel the Bible, were translated into the English style of the KJV; the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (JST) was based on the KJV, with 90 percent of the verses unchanged. All latter-day prophets have used the KJV, and using the KJV in all Church publications has made it possible to standardize annotations and indices.
The KJV is viewed by many as a masterpiece of English literature. It has been called "the noblest monument of English prose," and it is certainly the most influential; its translators "showed great sensitivity," and the result was "destined for extraordinary influence and acclaim" (Speiser, pp. lxxiii-iv). H. L. Mencken praised it as "probably the most beautiful piece of writing in all the literature of the world" (Paine, p. viii).
The KJV is a relatively conservative translation. This is generally a strength, although at times it produces obscure renderings. Moreover, some of its diction is now archaic and ungrammatical in current usage, and it is not consistent in the spelling of names in the Old and New Testaments (for example, Isaiah/Esaias and Elijah/Elias). Identical words in the synoptic Gospels are sometimes translated differently, and some misprints were never corrected (for instance, in Matt. 23:24, "strain at a gnat" should have been rendered "strain out a gnat").
After studying many modern English translations, however, President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., a counselor in the First Presidency, said in 1956 that the KJV was "the best version of any yet produced" (Clark, p. 33). For example, he felt that the KJV translators clearly portrayed Jesus as the promised Messiah and as the Son of God, and accepted the gift of prophecy, the reality of miracles, and the uniqueness of the love of Christ; whereas modern translations have tended to promote naturalistic explanations for divine action, preferred the word "sign" instead of "miracle," and used "love" in place of "charity," and "appoint" instead of "ordain." His views have been influential among most Latter-day Saints. Not all alternative translations, of course, suffer from the problems identified by President Clark.
(See Basic Beliefs home page; Scriptural Writings home page; The Holy Bible home page)
Barlow, Philip L. Mormons and the Bible, pp. 132-62. New York, 1990.
Bruce, F. F. History of the Bible in English, 3rd ed. New York, 1978.
Clark, J. Reuben, Jr. Why the King James Version. Salt Lake City, 1956.
Daiches, David. The King James Version of the English Bible. Chicago, 1941.
Metzger, Bruce M. The Text of the New Testament. New York, 1968.
Paine, G. The Learned Men, p. viii. New York, 1959.
Speiser, E. Genesis, pp. lxiii-iv. Garden City, N.Y., 1964.
Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 1, Bible, King James Version
Copyright © 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company
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