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Correspondence on
KJV vs. NKJV - Part One

Below are several e-mails from the same person commenting on articles listed at Bible Versions Controversy, along with my replies. In each exchange, the e-mailer’s comments are in black and enclosed in "greater than" and "lesser than" signs. My comments are in red.

Exchange #1

>I have enjoyed reading the various articles concerning Bible versions on your web site. You seem to favor the NKJV. Last week, before reading your articles, I purchased two NKJVs of the Bible after becoming aware of the many variants of the modern versions.

After about 5 days of reading the NKJV, I have found three places where the KJV was a better translation. One of your articles mention that you found several instances were the KJV translation was better than the NKJV. Can please provide those references?<

Thank you for your letter. You are probably right that there would be verses where the KJV's rendering is to be preferred to the NKJV. But I'm sure you'll eventually find other places where the NKJV is to be preferred. This is why on my Web site I consistently recommend that people compare more than one version of the Bible.

So it is not an "either/ or" situation but "both/ and." Use both, compare them as you do our studies and I think you will find it to be profitable. At least it is for me.

Now, I do consider the KJV, NKJV, Modern King James Version [MKJV], and The Literal Translation of the Bible [LITV] to be the best versions available. And I consistently compare each in my own studies.

Exchange #2

>Gary, Thanks for your reply. As I mentioned in my last letter, I am pretty much of a novice when it comes the differences in versions. For over twenty years, I have faithfully studied, taught, and preached from my KJV and used it as a standard to compare all other translations. To me this translation was the Word of God. Now that I have exposed myself to other versions, I find myself with the need to check every verse in the KJV (when reading) against another translations in the hope the other version may shed some additional light or correct a translation error.

In other words, I have lost my trust in the KJV's infallibility. However, I dare not communicate my recent discoveries about the KJV's errors least I stir up confusion or destroy someone's faith. (When I discussed with my wife some of the errors in the KJV she stated tearfully, "You mean to tell me that my bible (the Word) is wrong?" There are multitudes like my wife that "can't handle the truth". Jesus said the truth shall make us free. But does the truth about translations make us free?<

Your comments here remind me of the time, years ago, when my grandpa told me that he read the Bible "in the original." At first I was impressed. I thought that he knew Hebrew and Greek. But as we talked further it became apparent that by "the original" he meant the KJV!

My attempts to explain to him that the KJV was NOT "the original" but a TRANSLATION of the original Hebrew and Greek were fruitless. So he went to his grave believing that Bible was originally written in KJV English (God bless his soul; he died October 2, 1997).

In any case, my point is, he was taught wrong from the start. And apparently, so were you and your wife. You see, from long before I became a Christian I learned that the Bible was originally written in Hebrew (OT) and Greek (NT).

Moreover, I also learned that the Christian claim was that the original manuscripts of the Greek and Hebrew were inspired, not any translation thereof. In addition, I learned that the textual evidence for the integrity of the original texts was far greater than any other ancient manuscript.

So for me, learning that any translation of the Bible is not "infallible" in no way would lessen my faith in the Bible as the Word of God. Thus, what I see here is a need for people to be taught the correct attitude toward the doctrine of inspiration from the start.

>You mentioned that you constantly compare translations as you study, which tells me you can't fully trust translators--a very sad predicament. Unfortunately, I am also in your situation.<

It is not a matter of not trusting the translators. To clarify, you are correct that I do not trust the majority of modern-day translations. But this is not because I do not "trust" the translators in terms of their ability to translate Hebrew and Greek. The knowledge of the original language of the translators of the NIV, for instance, would far exceed mine (two years of Greek, one year of Hebrew at Denver Seminary, plus much studying on my own).

However, the reason I do not trust the NIV and similar versions is because I disagree with the translators’ PHILOSOPHY of translation. The translators of such version ascribe to a "dynamic equivalence" philosophy whereas I believe in "formal (or complete) equivalence." I discuss the differences between these philosophies at length in articles on my Web site.

I also disagree with their use of the "Critical Text" rather than the Textus Receptus/ Majority Text. Again, I detail my reason for this disagreement on my site.

Now, as regards the versions I recommend on my site (the KJV, NKJV, MKJV, LITV), I recommend comparing more than one of these versions not because I don’t trust the translations per se. I believe that each of these are generally reliable. However, none is "perfect." Furthermore, sometimes it is possible to translate the original in more than one way.

In more practical terms, I generally read from the NKJV. But as I do I generally compare first its reading with the LITV, and then maybe the KJV and MKJV. If these versions are all basically the same, then I will generally assume that the rendering is "correct." And more often than not, this is the case.

For instance, in your first letter you mentioned that you "found three places where the KJV was a better translation." But this was "After about 5 days of reading the NKJV." Now, I wonder how many verses you read in those five days. Assuming you're a rather avid Bible reader, it was probably in the hundreds. If this is the case, then the percentage of verses with significant differences would not be that great.

If, however, there is a significant difference in a verse between the above versions, then I know I need to do some further research. This would involve looking at the verse in the Hebrew or Greek texts. I might then look at other study aids such as lexicons, concordances, etc. Bible software programs are particularly helpful in doing such research.

For instance, in a recent discussion on eternal security, I was quoting John 10:27-29 in support of the doctrine. The phrase I was emphasizing was Jesus’ promise about "his sheep" that "they shall never perish" (v.28). This is how it is worded in the KJV, NKJV, and LITV.

However, in the MKJV the phrase reads, "they shall never ever perish." That extra word "never" caught my eye. I thought I might know why was there; but I checked the Greek text to be sure. And sure enough there was a "double negative" in the Greek (ou me).

Unlike English in which a double negative cancels each other out, in Greek this grammatical construction is an emphatic way of expressing an impossibility. So by comparing versions I found out that Jesus was declaring the "eternal security" of the believer in an even more emphatic way than I originally thought.

Further research showed that only the MKJV renders the double negative. The other versions seem to ignore it. Other verses where this construction is used by Jesus are Matt 24:35; John 4:14; 6:35; 8:51,52.

Now, I should mention that you do not need to be a Hebrew or Greek "scholar" or even know these languages to do some of the above kind of research. There are many study aids now available that give even the non-Hebrew or non-Greek reader some access to the original languages.

I mention many such aids on the following page on my site: Recommended Bible Study Aids.

>If we accept the KJV as inspired, then that makes our spiritual lives easier but not necessarily correct.<

Agreed. "Easier" is not better - "correct" is. Again, people need to be taught from the start that it is the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts that are inspired, not any translation.

>If we accept the Received Text as inspired, then what does that say about the Majority Text and its differences to the Received Text?<

There are some differences between the Textus Receptus [TR] and the Majority Text [MT], but they are generally minor, few and far apart. If you check the textual footnotes in your NKJV (which is based on the TR) you will see that only rarely an alternative "M" reading is given (the "M" being the NKJV’s abbreviation for the Majority Text).

The only exception to this would be in the Revelation. In that book you will see quite a few "M" alternative readings. You will also see a lot of "NU" alternative readings ("NU" being the NKJV’s abbreviation for "Nestle/Aland - United Bible Societies, the two groups that publish the "Critical Text" [CT]).

There are more textual variants in the Revelation than any other book of the NT. Why this is so I’m not sure; but it may have something to do with the frequent use heretics made of the book. In any case, the variants generally are not that significant.

About the only really "significant" variant between the TR and the MT are Acts 9:5,6 and 1John 5:7,8. I discuss these variants in my article Significant Textual Variants - TR vs. MT.

There are, however, quite a few significant variants between the TR/ MT and the CT. but even then, the overall integrity of the NT is not put in question as I detail in articles on my site.

>And if the Received Text is inspired, we need a good translation but which one is better--NKJV, MKJV, LITV, or KJ21? Which version do we commit to memory? Which version should we preach and teach to the world? Won't they be confused as to which is the real Word of God? Which version do we use as a standard for our local church?<

I would recommend that each person needs to pick one version as their primary Bible. This version should then be used for preaching, teaching, and memorization. At least one of the other versions should then be used for comparison purposes, like I outlined above.

In a local church or Bible study, yes, it would be helpful if everyone were to use the same version. And I have found that generally, most people in a church will begin to use the version that the preacher or teacher uses.

But even if people in the congregation are using a different version from the preacher or teacher, there would not be much "confusion" as long as everyone is using a version based on the TR/ MT. But if someone is using a version based on the CT text there just might be some confusion. See, for an example, my short article Differences Between Bible Versions.

Confusion can be further avoided, again, if people are correctly taught from the start that even the TR/ MT versions are just translations of the originally inspired texts. People also need to be taught that each of the first three versions you mention, along with the KJV, are generally reliable (I am not familiar with the KJ21, though I have heard of it, so I cannot say how accurate it is).

>I think you will agree that We (the church) are at a spiritual conundrum and at the same time the devil is rejoicing as we fight over which translation is best.<

I think the devil is rejoicing over the wide-spread use of less reliable version like the NIV. I also think you are correct that the devil rejoices when "KJV only" people attack people like myself who use the NKJV. Or when users of the MKJV or LITV attack users of the KJV or NKJV.

Since each of these are reliable translations, I find the fighting very disheartening. See my article "Judge Not …" for more on my comments in this regard.

>Quoting from the preface of the NKJV, "Today, scholars agree that the science of New Testament textual criticism is in a state of flux. Very few scholars still favor the Textus Receptus as such, and then often for its historical prestige as the text of Luther, Calvin, Tyndale, and the King James Version." I don't know if "flux" is a strong enough term. The science of textual criticism is in more of state of chaos!!<

Not really. What you have are three main "camps." Those who promote the CT, those, like myself, who ascribe to the MT text, and then the "KJV Only" people who will only accept the TR.

Since, as stated above, the difference between the TR and MT is not that great, there is really not much reason for fighting here.

The main differences are between the TR/ MT and the CT. The NKJV preface’s statement about "a state of flux" refers to that fact that more and more scholars are leaving the CT side and coming over to the TR/ MT side. So the claims of the CT people that their text is the "standard" for today is falling apart.

>I realize that the KJV version has some archaic, anachronistic words and even some words/verses have been mistranslated or added, but none of the alternatives are a perfect alternative to the tried and faithful KJV. Other translations have come and gone and the KJV remains as a true standard. I am not preaching "KJV Onlyism" but we as whole (the church) need a standard--the KJV is it!

Gary, you are in a unique position to take a position. Instead of telling your readers to consistently compare versions, tell them to use the KJV as their primary version and the rest (NKJV, MKJV, KJ21, LITV) as references as the Holy Spirit directs. I would be interested in your comments.


When my mom was in high school her parents bought her a KJV Bible. She tried reading it, then stopped. She tried again, and then stopped again. She tried some more, but finally got "disgusted" (her word) and gave up on the Bible altogether. The problem was, she says, it simply was too difficult to understand, especially in the OT.

Her mom then bought her a Good News Bible (GNB, also know as Today’s English Version). She started reading it and kept reading it. It seems she could actually understand it.

She continued to read the GNB until my little book Differences Between Bible Versions was published in 1994. As a result of reading my book she switched to the NKJV and has been reading it ever since. She finds it plenty easy to understand.

I relate this story as I am sure that my mom is not the only one who has had a similar experience with the KJV.

I just pulled a pamphlet out of my files that I picked up a few years ago titled "How to Choose the Right Bible" (Spring Arbor Distributors, 1990). On pages 6-7 is a chart comparing nine versions of the Bible. One of the areas of comparison is "Reading Level."

Following is how the versions mentioned above are rated, from lowest to highest grade:

GNB:    7th grade
NIV:     7th grade
NKJV:  8th grade
KJV:   12th grade

The MKJV and LITV are not on the pamphlet. But I would guess that they would be somewhere in-between the NKJV and KJV. Maybe the MKJV at 9th grade and the LITV at 11th grade.

Now, I remember reading a while back that the average person in the USA reads at a 7th grade reading level. I know this sounds like a sad state of affairs; but it is nevertheless true. It is for this reason that newspapers and other popular publications are generally written at a 7th grade level.

More to the point, my mom would probably be considered an average reader. So it should be apparent why she got "disgusted" with the KJV but kept with the GNB.

The above information also explains the popularity of the NIV. It also is written at the level where most people read at. Meanwhile, the KJV is written at a level of five "grades" above my mom’s and the average person’s reading level. So it should also be apparent why the NIV now outsells the KJV.

But notice that the NKJV is rated at an "8th grade" level. So it is only slightly more difficult than the GNB or NIV. Hence why my mom has had no difficulties with it.

Now, I think we would both agree that the GNB and the NIV are not very reliable, to say the least. But why do I recommend the NKJV rather than the KJV? Simple, the KJV is simply too difficult for the average reader. I myself find it very awkward to read. So why would I recommend it to others?

This question is especially pertinent as there are alternatives: the NKJV, MKJV and LITV. I have listed these in the increasing order of difficulty to read, but also in what I would consider to be the increasing order of accuracy.

I have considered switching to the either the MKJV or LITV as the "default" version my ministry due to their somewhat greater accuracy. But, as indicated above, they would probably be about two and four grades, respectively, above the average reading level of people.

So I think I will stick with the NKJV as my primary Bible for my ministry and personal studies. But the LITV will be my secondary Bible, and then the MKJV and KJV.

Now, please do not misunderstand me here. If someone such as yourself is already using the KJV and finds it easy enough to read, I would not discourage that person from continuing to use it. But I cannot see recommending it, especially for a new Bible reader.

It would be nice if every Christian were to use the same Bible version. But, unfortunately, this is simply unrealistic in today’s climate. Even more unfortunate, if a "standard" were to emerge, given today’s sale levels, the NIV would probably be it.

So I would be thankful if the sale levels of the NIV and similar versions were to drop off, and the KJV, NKJV, MKJV, and/ or LITV would see increased sales and, more importantly, use.

This correspondence is continued at Correspondence on KJV vs. NKJV - Part 2.

Books and eBooks by Gary F. Zeolla, the Director of Darkness to Light

The above e-mail exchange was posted on this Web site in October 1997.

Bible Versions Controversy: KJV vs. NKJV
Bible Versions Controversy

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