Aug 18, 2013

Is the KJV Bible Inspired of God?

Tony Garland

Dr. Tony Garland

Q. In a recent article on Christian parenting regarding how to study the Bible, the author makes the statement,

...the King James Bible is indeed accurately translated and is the preserved scripture inspired.

The article mentions that we need not be concerned about the various Hebrew or Greek texts behind our modern translations and that we should consider the KJV to be the inspired text for English readers.

What are your thoughts?

KJV Bible

KJV Only?

A. While I can agree with the first part of this author's statement, "the King James Bible is indeed accurately translated", I do not agree with the subsequent phrase, "...and is the preserved scripture inspired". The problem here is that the author is essentially saying that he considers the KJV translation to be "God-breathed."

Scripture makes plain that this is true concerning the original Scriptures written by various men—who were indwelt by the Holy Spirit in a special way to "superintend" their writings (2 Ti. 3:16; 2 Pe. 1:21). But how far does inspiration extend? If it is true of the original autographs, is it also true that all translations (and translation committees) were also inspired to produce error-free translations in the target language? If not all translations, then which ones? Has God guaranteed to produce a primary translation in each unique language which is completely without error? And if so, what about various printings of each translation? Does inspiration extend to the printing and reproduction of these translations?

It is my belief that the concept that the KJV is the inspired word of God in the English language, the position of those who are often described as "KJV-only," cannot be supported either from Scripture or from history.

From the perspective of Scripture, although God promises to preserve His Word, the manner in which He has chosen to do so is not made explicit—other than that the original writers were moved by the Spirit to record what God intended without error. The KJV-only advocates would have us believe that God's general promise to preserve His word requires their specific interpretation of how this was to be done: guaranteeing to produce an error-free translation in each major language group. It turns out that the reality is quite different: God has preserved His Word through an abundance of textual manuscripts in an "organic" fashion which includes allowance for human frailties and sin in the process of subsequent transmission once the original autographs had been written.

In order to accept the idea that the KJV Bible is fully inspired, we must also deny historical reality and believe:

  • There is a single edition of the KJV which is the inerrant edition.
  • The KJV was the first, best, or most significant English version to be produced.
  • Printing errors have no deleterious affect upon the meaning of an otherwise inspired translation.
  • The translators of the KJV understood that their translation work was inspired in the same sense as the apostles and prophets who wrote the original autographs.

None of the above is true.

There has never been a single authoritative edition of the KJV. Even comparing more recent printings will show that there are many differences between editions. While KJV-only advocates point to the variety of Greek texts as a proof of their inadequacy, they are unwilling to face the same reality in their beloved English translation.

When, finally, in the nineteenth century, Dr. F. Scrivener, a scholar working to modern standards, attempted to collate all the editions of the King James Bible then in circulation, he found more than 24,000 variations between them. The curious fact is that no one such thing as 'The King James Bible'—agreed, consistent and whole—has ever existed. [1]

More than four hundred [printing] errors in the first edition of the King James Bible were corrected in a subsequent edition two years later. ...The King James translation has passed through many editions and has been modernized considerably over the years. In 1613 a new edition was issued which contained more than four hundred variations from the original printing. Countless other emendations have taken place through the centuries of its existence, so many changes that the King James reader of today would be startled by the appearance of the 1611 edition. [2]

Nor was the KJV the first or most significant English version. A number of English translations predate the KJV, including the extremely popular Geneva Bible which held sway over the KJV for a number of years.

It was the Bible used by Shakespeare in his later plays; it was the Bible of the Jamestown settlement in Virginia; it was the Bible brought to Plymouth on the Mayflower. And it was a Bible, with its improved Hebrew and Greek scholarship, that was an intermediate step between Tyndale and the King James Version. [3]

In fact, some of the same arguments which KJV-only advocates use today to promote the KJV text were used in 1611 by Geneva Bible advocates who criticized the new "upstart" KJV translation.

Even if we were to assume that God's inspiration extended to each and every member of the KJV translation committee to guarantee an error-free result, there is still the matter of printing variations. One Bible edition printed in 1631 came to be known as the "Wicked Bible" because the word "not" was omitted from the seventh of the Ten Commandments. Here we have a printing error which completely reverses the meaning of an important doctrine. Why would God extend His inspiration to a new translation only to "drop the ball" at the printers? Plain and simple: God gave the original autographs error free, but has not extended His inspiration to the translation and printing process.

As for the idea that the KJV translators considered their work to be inspired, we need only read sections of the preface, The Translators to the Reader, to see that they held views which do not support this notion:

  • The translators understood their work to be imperfect and not on a par with the inspired authors of Scripture.

    No cause therefore why the word translated should be denied to be the word, or forbidden to be current, notwithstanding that some imperfections and blemishes may be noted in the setting forth of it. For whatever was perfect under the Sun, where Apostles or Apostolic men, that is, men endued with an extraordinary measure of God's spirit, and privileged with the privilege of infallibility, had not their hand? [emphasis added]

  • The translators understood their work contained errors and that it was beneficial to correct such errors.

    But the difference that appeareth between our Translations, and our often correcting of them, is the thing that we are specially charged with; let us see therefore whether they themselves [the critics of the need for the KJV] be without fault this way, (if it be to be counted a fault, to correct).

  • The translators knew that their work borrowed heavily from previous translations, including those already available in English, and that their work was merely an improvement upon that which went before, but not in a special category of being without error.

    Truly (good Christian Reader) we never thought from the beginning, that we should need to make a new Translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one, ...but to make a good one better, or out of many good ones, one principal good one, not justly to be excepted against; that hath been our endeavor, that our mark.

    Here we see a realistic and laudable goal—which was obtained by the committee—of improving previous work. There is no belief that the result of their work was on a superior plain or uniquely endued with God's inspiration.

  • The translators understood that their translation work, like all translation work was subject to some uncertainty and variation of opinion regarding how to correctly represent what was set forth in the original languages.

    Some peradventure would have no variety of senses to be set in the margin, lest the authority of the Scriptures for deciding of controversies by that show of uncertainty, should somewhat be shaken. But we hold their judgment not to be sound in this point...

    There be many words in the Scriptures, which be never found there but once, (having neither brother or neighbor, as the Hebrews speak) so that we cannot be holpen by conference of places. Again, there be many rare names of certain birds, beasts and precious stones, etc. concerning the Hebrews themselves are so divided among themselves for judgment, that they may seem to have defined this or that, rather because they would say something, than because they were sure of that which they said.

    This contravenes the practice of the KJV-only advocates who want to settle uncertainty by pronouncing one particular English translation as the inspired one. It just isn't that simple.

  • The translators admit of license in varying the choice of English words solely for the sake of literary variety.

    Another things we think good to admonish thee of (gentle Reader) that we have not tied ourselves to an uniformity of phrasing, or to an identity of words, as some peradventure would wish that we had done, because they observe, that some learned men somewhere, have been as exact as they could that way.

    This introduces variation in the English representation of the text in places where none exists in the underlying Hebrew and Greek—hardly what one would expect of a text which perfectly represents the original. And, unlike KJV-only advocates who tend to minimize the importance of the original language manuscripts, the translators place authority in the Hebrew.


In sum, it is clear from the original manuscripts, from the views expressed by the KJV translators, and from historic reality that the KJV, although an excellent translation, is neither inspired (God-breathed) nor inerrant.

Instead, we understand that there are numerous excellent translations available in various languages, and that it is the original autographs in Hebrew and Greek which alone are inerrant. This is set forth by an excellent statement on the topic known as the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, Article X of which states:

We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.

We deny that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs. We further deny that this absence renders the assertion of Biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant.

While we love the KJV translation and its unquestionable contribution to Western Civilization and know it to be an excellent translation, we cannot agree with the above author that it "is the preserved scripture inspired."


[1] Adam Nicolson, God's Secretaries, p. 226.

[2] Neil R. Lightfoot, How We Got the Bible, pp 87, 183.

[3] Lightfoot, p. 181.