Is Revision of a Bible Translation Always Wrong?

by Rick Norris

In their preface to the 1611 KJV, the KJV translators argued that it was good to revise and attempt to improve earlier translations of God's Word. They acknowledged that attempts to revise the Bible such as theirs were often incorrectly viewed with suspicion and jealousy. They realized that they would be accused of changing and correcting God's Word, but they still contended that revision was necessary. They wrote: "If anything be halting, or superfluous, or not so agreeable to the original, the same may be corrected, and the truth set in place."

The KJV translators noted that the Roman Catholics criticized Protestants for "altering and amending our translations so often." Thomas Fuller observed that Roman Catholics asked: "Was their translation good before? Why do they now mend it?" (CHURCH HISTORY OF BRITAIN, V, p. 407). In a 1582 book, Gregory Martin, a Roman Catholic, condemned the early translators with this charge: "How is it, then, that in your later English bibles, you changed your former translation from better to worse?" (Fulke, A DEFENSE, p. 323). Martin claimed that "books which were so translated by Tyndale and the like, as being not indeed God's book, word, or scripture, but the devil's word" (Ibid., p. 228). Martin argued that present translations must be evaluated or judged by the ancient Latin Vulgate translation that had been used by the church for over a thousand years.

The KJV translators did not consider that these Roman Catholic arguments against new translations or revision of former translations as valid. They recognized that this vague, emotionally-charged claim that any revision is a corruption of God's Word or that any revision makes the translation the devil's word is wrong.

If the KJV translators had accepted the claim that translation do not need to be "revised," "corrected," or "updated," there would be no King James Version. On the title page of the 1611, the translators acknowledged that they "diligently compared and revised" the former English translations. According to the title page and to the preface of the 1611, their standard for revising translations was God's Word in the original languages [Hebrew and Greek]. If the fallible Church of England translators of the KJV could revise, correct, or update the earlier English Bibles by consulting God's Word in the original languages without it being wrong, the KJV can be revised, corrected, or updated by this same standard.

David Cloud, a KJV defender, admitted: "The King James Bible is a revision of that line of Received Text English Bibles stretching back to Tyndale" (FOR LOVE OF THE BIBLE, p. 8). In an article about KJV translator John Overall, the reference works THE DICTIONARY OF NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY referred to "the 1611 revision of the translation of the Bible" (p. 1270). In an article about Roger Fenton, these same reference books called the KJV "the revised version of the Bible" (p. 1191). Thomas Harrison was noted to be "among the revisers of the Bible assembled by James I (p. 40).

If the claim that changing, revising, or updating a translation is corrupting God's Word were valid, it would mean that the KJV translators corrupted God's Word. If the claim of no change or revision of a translation were valid, then believers must use the first translation into a language regardless or whether it is an accurate translation or not. The fact should be obvious that a revision of a translation of the Bible is not always wrong. Even Peter Ruckman commended the "genuine work of updating and revision" in Bishops', Matthew's, Coverdale's, Geneva, and Great Bibles (DIFFERENCES IN THE KJV EDITIONS, p. 5). Of course, the fact that changes or revisions can be good does not mean that all changes are good. If a translation has some changes that seem to be for the worse or less accurate, it does not mean that all its changes or revisions are bad.

A honest and objective comparison of the KJV to its underlying Hebrew and Greek texts would show that the KJV improved the renderings of the earlier good English Bibles in many places. Such a comparison would also show that every change or revision made by the KJV translators was not necessarily a better or more accurate one. Please examine the evidence for yourself instead of relying on misleading arguments that tear down all revision of translations as the work of Satan. If applied consistently, such arguments would also condemn the revised version of 1611--the KJV. If such arguments were not valid in 1611, why have they become valid today?