THE KING JAMES BIBLE AT 400
The party is coming to an end. We have had a year of celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the translation of the King James Bible. Celebrations, large and small, scholarly and devotional, have taken place all over the world in honor of this milestone. Mostly the presentations at these events have celebrated the literary, historical and cultural achievement of the King James Bible. Not much attention has been given to text-critical matters relating to the KJV.
Our celebration of this splendid early seventeenth century achievement comes at a time when its language is revered but the text on which it is based is generally regarded as late and corrupt. Especially over the last two centuries stunning manuscript discoveries and refinement of methods have overthrown the once dominant Textus Receptus (The New Testament in the KJV was based on Beza’s 1598 edition of this text), and today translators generally depend on an eclectic text, like The Nestle/Aland 27th edition. Many readings found in the King James have been relegated to the apparatus by modern editors. For example, few scholars today would be willing to argue that either Mark 16:9-20 or John 7:53-8:11 were part of the original (or initial) text of these books.
However, there are a few places in the New Testament where I believe the King James represents the original text of the writer. In my recent book, Text and Story: Narrative Studies in New Testament Textual Criticism (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2011), I argue on eclectic grounds that three readings represented in the King James, but missing from modern editions, should be re-considered:
Mark 9:29: prayer and fasting
Luke 4:18: to heal the brokenhearted
Romans 8:2: set me free.
In addition to these I have argued in earlier studies listed below that other readings found in the King James Version but absent from the modern editions should be placed in our printed texts rather than in the apparatus:
Mark 15:28: “And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors” (Evangelical Quarterly, LXI, 1989, 81-84)
Ephesians 5:30: “…of his flesh and of his bones” (JTS 41, 1990, 92-94)
1 Peter 4:14: “On their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified” (CBQ 43, 1981, 93-95).
As the birthday party for the KJV comes to a close, let us celebrate this translation for its splendid language and influence. But we should also be alert in these and a few other instances for indications of the original text of the New Testament.