The Authorized Version (AV) (1611) of the Bible, also known as the King James Bible or King James Version (KJV), is the most read English translation of the Bible, if not the most read Bible translationof all time.
The AV translates the Greek of the Textus Receptus for the New Testament and the Hebrew of the Masoretic text for the Old Testament.
While it is the best translation ever done in English, it is not perfect:
- Its English is becoming too old to clearly understand.
- We now know that the original that it translates has errors. None of them are serious.
The New King James Version (NKJV) attempts to set right the first but not the second.
So far no new translation has been good enough to take the place of the AV, not even the NKJV.
The authority and respect that the AV enjoys today did not come about till 1700 when a whole generation had grown up on it and it alone.
Before 1650 the Geneva Bible stood against the AV. It was the translation of choice for Milton, Bunyan and the Pilgrim Fathers who came to America on the Mayflower. It was the translation of those who fought for the republic in the English civil war in the middle 1600s. Those who fought against them for the king read the AV. In the end the king’s men won and so did their translation.
The AV is a faithful translation. It is not as good as the Latin Vulgate – it is much harder to turn Greek into English than into Latin. But it translates the original almost word for word, even keeping much of its word order.
The English translations of the past 50 years are much looser than the AV, putting a much thicker layer of interpretation between the reader and the original.
The AV is so close to the original that it sounded a bit strange at first. It was full of strange Greek and Hebrew ways of putting things, like “stand in awe”, “the powers that be”, “it came to pass”, “by the skin of his teeth” and “from time to time”. None of these expressions were common before 1700, yet sound completely natural now. That shows the influence the AV has had on English.
The AV is written in the English of south-east England. It has helped to make that sort of English a universally accepted form of the language.
The AV sounds old-fashioned to us, but it sounded old-fashioned even when it first came out. In 1611 few still said “He loveth his dog” instead of “He loves his dog”, or “The house and the windows thereof” instead of “The house and its windows”. That old-fashioned sound comes from the way it was translated.
The AV that is printed today drops the books of the Apocrypha, uses present-day spelling and punctuation and is no longer printed in thick, Gothic letters.
The King-James-Only Movement accepts the King James Bible as the only trustworthy translation of the Bible.
– Abagond, 2007.