How accurate are modern translations of the Bible, such as the New International Version (NIV) and the New Revised Standard Version (RSV)? What are the differences in the King James Version (KJV) and modern translations today, and how can we be sure that the biblical message has been accurately preserved through the centuries? At times, the King James Version can be difficult to understand, but many of the new translations of the Bible simply leave out verses from the original translations.
The first complete Bible in the English language was written by John Wycliffe (1330-1384) and known as the Wycliffe Bible.
Wycliffe was a reformer of the church before the Reformation, during which corruption in the Church was descending to murkier depths. Wycliffe spoke out sharply against this moral corruption and some of the theological doctrines he felt were not rooted in Scripture. He believed it was important that every person has the right to read and interpret the Bible. The most important work of his life was the translation of the entire Bible into English. It is believed his colleague Nicholas Purvey—with assistance from John Purvey and John Trevisa— collaborated to complete the earliest version of this Bible in 1382. Later versions were completed in 1388 or later—perhaps as late as 1395. These early versions followed the Latin Vulgate and awakened the desire of the faithful to read and study the Bible.
The Geneva Bible holds the honor of being the first Bible taken to America—the Bible of the Puritans and Pilgrims. It was first published in 1560 and named for the town of Geneva, Switzerland. It was the first Bible to add numbered verses, so that referencing specific passages would be easier. The Geneva Bible became the Bible of choice for over 100 years of English-speaking Christians. Examination of the 1611 King James Bible shows clearly that its translators were influenced much more by the Geneva Bible, than by any other source. Recognizing that the Geneva Bible and its notes were undermining the authority of the monarchy, King James I of England commissioned the “Authorized Version,” commonly known as the King James Bible, as its replacement.
Under the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the Geneva Bible was more popular among the people than the Great Bible, an authorized version commissioned by Henry VIII. This made the Anglicans unhappy, so to remedy this problem, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker, put together a team of church bishops to produce a new authorized version.
The Bishops’ Bible, a new translation based on the Great Bible of 1539, was completed in 1568. James VI and I, known as James Charles Stuart, lived from 1566 until 1625. As the King of Scotland, he was known as James VI from 1567, and as the King of England and Ireland, he was known as James I from the union of the Scottish and English crowns in March 1603. King James detested the Geneva Bible. He had a firm conviction about the “divine right of kings.” He believed that kings are ordained by God and endowed with divine authority for their work on earth. He further believed that the monarchy was God’s chosen form of government and that rebellion against a monarch was always a sin. After he became the king of England in 1603, he held a conference in the halls of the Hampton Court Palace to handle the problem of religious division in the country. The outcome of this conference was to revise the English Bible. Over 50 scholars were commissioned to this task, and each was instructed to use the 1602 edition of the Bishops’ Bible as the basis. In his attempt to change the Church of England, this new “King James” translation would come to be known as England’s greatest literary achievement.
The King James Bible (KJV) has not only been the most popular Bible in history, but also the most influential book in the history of the English language.
Neil R. Lightfoot, the author of How We Got the Bible, explains in his book that “The publication of the King James Version in 1611 was an epoch-making event in the history of the English Bible. Itself a revision, it was the climax of various translations and revisions. For many years it maintained an unquestioned supremacy, a supremacy so great that it has caused many people to regard it as the final word on Bible translation. But no translation is ever final. Because translators are human beings, there will always be room for improvements of translations. No translator can transcend his own time. He can only work in light of the knowledge of his day, with materials available to him, and put his translation in words spoken by his generation.”
Lightfoot goes on to say that there are several weaknesses of the King James Bible which have made more recent revisions necessary, but most of these textual variations were small insignificance and did not materially affect the Bible message. In 1870, a motion to consider a revision of the King James Bible was passed by the Convocation of the Province of Canterbury, one of two ecclesiastical provinces making up the Church of England. Proposals for the new revision had been agreed upon, and two separate committees (for Old and New Testaments) were formed. Each committee was originally composed of 27 scholars. These committees were joined later by two American committees who reviewed the work in progress and communicated their detailed suggestions to the English revisers.
Four years later, on May 19, 1885, the entire Bible was completed. This authorized revision of the King James Version is known in America as the English Revised Version (ERV). Even though American scholars cooperated in the undertaking of the English Revised Version, in the long run, the decisions of the British committees prevailed. Divided opinions hinged mainly on differences between British and American idiom and on distinctions of spelling, with the Americans, in general, favoring more variations from the time-honored King James Version. These differences were eventually solved by compromise, with the British agreeing to print the American preferences in an attached appendix, and with the Americans agreeing that they would not issue their proposed edition until fourteen years after the publication of the English revision. The result was that the American committees, which continued to meet after the British disbanded, put out their edition of the revision in 1901.
This authorized revision of the King James Version is known as the American Standard Version (ASV) and differs little from the English Revised Version.
In 1971, the New American Standard Bible (NASB) was published. This Bible became popular among evangelicals, selling millions of copies. In 1995, it was once again updated. This American Standard Version, revised in 1901, was based on a Greek text which was far superior to that employed by the King James Bible translators. Nevertheless, the American revision did not escape criticism.
Charles H. Spurgeon commented on the Revised New Testament saying, “strong in Greek, weak in English.”
More versions of the Bible are currently available in English than ever before in history. Many believe that English usage changes so rapidly, there is a need to revise and update translations on a regular basis. It is important to note that there are different translation philosophies that have led to different kinds of translations.
The Revised Standard Version (RSV) goes back to the year 1929, with the expiration of the copyright of the American Standard Version. This new revision of the American Standard Version embodied the best results of modern scholarship and yet preserved the literary qualities of the King James translation. Due to the lack of funds, this Bible was not completed until September 30, 1952. The Revised Standard Version attempted to recapture the beauty of the King James style in a way that was clear and pleasing to the reader, but it should be noted that the Revised Standard Version has many faults.
After the publication of the Revised Standard Version in 1952, the revision committee continued to meet periodically and over the years made minor changes in the translation. One of the revisions was to eliminate all masculine-orientated language when references were made to both men and women. One example is in Matthew 4:4. Instead of “man shall not live by bread alone,” the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) reads, “One does not live by bread alone.” This New Revised Standard Version was published in 1990.
The New English Bible (NEB) coincided with the 350th anniversary of the King James Version, but its historic importance lies in the fact that it is a complete departure from the respected ancestry of the Tyndale-King James tradition. The translators insisted that a version was “faithful” only if it met the word-for-word requirement, but the New English Bible broke away from the word-for-word principle by replacing Greek constructions and idioms with those of contemporary English. The New English Bible, then, is a “sense-for-sense” translation rather than a “word-for-word” translation. The translators have tried to use the vocabulary of contemporary speech and this leaves much to be desired.
The New International Version (NIV), one of the more recent translations, began back in the 1950s. The New Testament was published in 1973 and the Old Testament in 1978. Evangelicals and others were unhappy with a number of passages in the Revised Standard because, in their view, these passages reflected a liberal theological bias on the part of the translators. For this reason, The Committee of Bible Translation (CBT) was formed to produce the New International Version. This New International Version, in both Old and New Testaments, offers considerable gains, but it is not tied to a literal word-for-word translation theory, otherwise obscure expressions frequently are turned into phrases with meaning and appeal.
When you compare the NIV with the KJV, you will find there are several verses missing from the NIV. Sixteen verses to be exact. One of the verses missing is Matthew 18:11. In the King James Version, it reads, “For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.”
Some of the other verses missing are Matthew 17:21, Matthew 23:14, Mark 7:16, Mark 9:44 and 9:46, Mark 11:26, Mark 15:28, Luke 17:36, John 5:3-4, Acts 8:37, Acts 15:34, Acts 24:6-8, Acts 28:29, Romans 16:24 and 1 John 5:78.
The translators argue that these verses, which appeared in the KJV but have been “omitted” in most trusted translations today, are not found in the oldest and most reliable manuscripts.
In 1611, the translators of the KJV used the best resources available at the time. However, they claim that the shortcomings of the KJV translation committee of 50 scholars drew heavily on William Tyndale’s New Testament. As much as 80 percent of Tyndale’s translation is used in the King James Version. Tyndale used several sources in his translation of the Old and New Testaments, and for the New Testament, he referred to the third edition (1522) of Desiderius Erasmus’s Greek New Testament, often referred to as the Textus Receptus. Modern translators do include these missing—and very important— verses in footnotes.
Other modern translations, such as the CEV, CSB, ESV, GNB, HCSB, NET, and NLT, also have missing verses. A movement called King James Version Only (KJVO), which believes that only the 1611 King James Version of the Bible in English is the true Word of God, has sharply criticized these translations for the omitted verses.
So, the question is: “Is the Bible still accurate after 2,000 years?”
Most would say, “Yes” and that this careful process, with its many checks and balances along the way, make most newer translations accurate. Likewise, scribes tasked with copying the text of Scripture throughout history took extraordinary care not to make careless mistakes.
The founder of Prophecy in the News—my dad, Dr. J.R. Church— always believed the original King James Version of the Bible was, and still is, the “Divine Word of God.”
I hope this article will help you understand the different versions of the Bible when you purchase your own personal Bible.