I got an email from a friend, who is dealing with some people who claim that the KJV is the only legitimate English translation of the Bible. She asked me to, if possible, give some background on this question. After completing it, I thought it might be a useful bit if info to share with everyone.
Basically, when you are translating the Bible (or any other ancient text) your goal is to be as close to communicating the original text as you can be. The best Bible translation is the one that can do that most effectively.
In the world of Bible translation especially, there are two main philosophies, or approaches, to translation:
–Formal equivalency is the translation that gives as literal translation as possible. KJV, NASB and ESV are all good examples of this approach.
–Dynamic equivalency seeks to translate the meaning from one language to another, even if it means sacrificing word for word translation. NIV is one of the main examples of this.
No one Bible will be completely formal or completely dynamic. For example, a literal translation of “I have a frog in my throat” to any other language will sound bizarre. However, in the big picture, the translation philosophy does start to make a difference. My opinion is that, those who want to seriously study their Bibles, need to get one that sticks to a formal equivalency rather than dynamic.
Looking at this group, the goal is to present as accurate a picture of the original as possible, and to make it readable and understandable. In order to do that there are a few things that you need to have:
1. A rich manuscript foundation
It is impossible to know EXACTLY what the original text said. All we have are copies of the originals. So, in order to get as close as possible to the original, we need as many copies as we can get, and we need to get manuscripts that are older rather than newer. Older ones are less likely to be altered, and large numbers of manuscripts help us to get a general average of what the original said. Looking at a rich foundation we are able to get a clearer picture of the origianl text.
2. A thorough understanding of the ancient greek language
It is kind of a self explanatory fact that in order to make a good translation of anything, one must have a deep understanding of both of the languages that are being worked with (in this case English, Ancient Greek, Aramaic and Ancient Hebrew).
Both of these facts show that although the KJV is a very important translation in the history of the church and has done a huge service to the church, there is nothing magically perfect about it. It was based on quite a limited manuscript base and was translated into english back when a) we knew less about Greek and b) the old English language was not as it was today.
As time has gone on the English language has evolved, we have learned a lot more about the nature of the Greek language, and we have found much more archelogical findings of more accurate ancient manuscripts.
Even the translators of the KJV, when finished, admitted to thier lack of perfection, and obvious future room for improvement. Just becuase it has been around for a long time, some people have, sort of, idolized it, some even claiming that it is actually inspired by God. They also claim that all other translators are motivated by evil motives to secretly change the text and ruin the church.
These beliefs are quite fictitious. They are not even supported by common sense. As to the ESV, it is just the latest translation that maintains the ‘literal translation’ philosophy (the same one that was held by those who translated the KJV). The difference is that we now have better scholarship, better English, and better manuscript base to get the translation as close as possible to the original text. There is nothing magical or perfect about the ESV, but it is quite a better translation just becuase of these simple, common sense facts.
Also, everything I wrote here was basically a brief summary of a book by James White called “The King James Only Controversey”. It is an excellent book on the subject. Although a little boring at a few spots it gives you a very thorough understanding of the subject. I highly recommend it if you want to learn more on the subject.
Hope that helps!