Understanding the Language of the King James Bible
By John A. Tvedtnes
From the beginning, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has used the King James version (KJV) of the Bible. The KJV is not more accurate than other Bibles, but it was the standard “Authorized Version” for the English-speaking world during the time of Joseph Smith. Consequently, when the Book of Mormon or the Doctrine and Covenants quotes the Bible, it relies on the KJV.
The KJV was prepared by a committee of 47 Bible scholars (most of them clergymen) and published in 1611. Rather than retranslate the text, these men revised an earlier version, the Bishop’s Bible, based on what they considered better readings of some Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments.
Unfortunately, the language of the KJV is archaic and many of the words used therein had a different meaning in 1611 (and even in 1830) than today. Some Latter-day Saints prefer reading a more modern English translation, but Church leaders have declared that the KJV is the official Bible we should use. I agree with this stand, not just because I sustain our leaders, but also because switching to another Bible version would adversely affect our other standard works. The Book of Mormon, the Book of Moses, the Book of Abraham, and some parts of the Doctrine and Covenants have passages that either quote or parallel a biblical passage, making it possible to compare these scriptural passages with the reading of the KJV passage being used. Substituting another version of the Bible would obscure the ties between these scriptures.
I have long felt that members of the Church would benefit from some instruction on the language of the KJV. I have assembled some of the more important points in my latest (tenth) book, Defining the Word: Understanding the History and Language of the Bible, just released by Covenant Communications. The table of contents illustrates my approach to this topic:
1. History of the English Bible
Early English Versions
The Bibles of Matthew and Taverner
The Great Bible
The Geneva Bible
The Bishop’s Bible
The Douai Bible
The King James Bible
2. King James Language?
An Ancient Practice
Which King James Bible?
KJV Printer’s Errors
3. Understanding the KJV
Transliteration of Names
4. KJV Words Whose Meaning Has Changed
5. Spelling Variations
6. Different Renderings of Hebrew Words
Ambiguity in the English Text
7. Later Misunderstandings of Original Intent
Hebrew and Greek Words Transliterated in KJV
Mythological and Unknown Creatures in KJV
Weights, Measures, and Coinage
Rendering of Other Misunderstood Words
Other Problems in Understanding the KJV