The Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC) use the King James Version (KJV) of Holy Scripture in their worship services, catechism classes, and other official meetings and activities. They use the KJV exclusively. All of the many Christian schools established by the members of the PRC use the KJV. Overwhelmingly, the PR people read the KJV in family worship and in private devotions.
This is a rare thing today. There are many individuals and several extra- ecclesiastical organizations that promote the KJV. But there are few churches that use it. There are far fewer denominations that have it as their exclusive English version.
Altogether apart from the question, “Which English version?” it should be plain to everyone that the matter of a good, sound, clear version of the Bible is of fundamental importance to the church. Because of the central place of the Bible in a Reformed church, a good version will bless and build up every aspect of the life of the congregation and its members.
By the same token, a bad version will work evil in the church. The versions made by Rome and by the Jehovah’s Witnesses will introduce their respective heresies into the church. A modern version that translates loosely will obscure basic biblical teaching, making it impossible to prove specific doctrines and to oppose particular errors. A version that deliberately sacrifices faithfulness to doctrinal expression for the sake of “making the Bible intelligible to the man on the street” will change the great, doctrinal words of the Bible, so that the reader is ignorant of such words as “justification,” “sanctification,” “predestination,” and the like. Another version may subtly promote the feminist agenda. Yet another will encourage the people of God to talk to and about God like cocky illiterates.
Everyone of these dangers is real.
It should also be evident to all that it is both proper and beneficial that the saints use one English version of Scripture. The use of one version is helpful, if not necessary, for knowing Scripture thoroughly. It is essential for memorizing Scripture, especially by the children.
There are reasons why the PRC use the KJV. For one thing, as Reformed churches we are not given to change. We are especially hesitant to change in a matter of such importance as the version of Holy Scripture. The notion that the church must constantly be changing her Bible, her songbook, and her liturgy is anathema to us. This is unsettling to the saints. Some change is necessary. But if immutability is a virtue of God, constancy is not a vice in His church. Divine wisdom tells us, “Meddle not with them that are given to change” (Prov. 24:21).
Second, and most importantly, the KJV is a faithful, reliable, and generally clear translation of the Word of God as we have it in the original languages of Holy Scripture.
Third, it has a majesty and beauty of style that are fitting for the Word of God.
Another reason why the PRC continue to use the KJV is that no modern English translation is superior. Most modern translations are unsatisfactory.
The version that is being touted in evangelical and Reformed churches in North America is the New International Version (NIV). This version must be unacceptable to the church and believer that confess the verbal inspiration of Scripture and are concerned to maintain sound doctrine.
First, the translators of the NIV employed the method of “dynamic equivalence” in translating. This theory permitted them to depart far from the very words that the Holy Spirit inspired and to express what they supposed to be the thought in a text in freely chosen words and phrases of their own. It was this that caused Christian Reformed theologian Sierd Woudstra, himself no advocate of the KJV, to remark about the NIV that it is “so imprecise as to make it difficult to teach from…. When I use it for Scripture reading from the pulpit, I have become reluctant to add, ‘Thus says the Lord’ ” (“A Teacher Looks at the NIV,” Banner, April 10, 1989, pp. 8, 9).
Second, the NIV contains errors of translation that have serious implications for the faith and life of the church. One such erroneous translation with serious doctrinal implications is the translation of the word inJohn 1:14 and 3:16, as well as in other places in John, describing Jesus as God’s “only begotten” Son. The NIV translates the word as “one and only” Son. The omission of “begotten” is serious. First of all, this is the meaning of the Greek word. But, second, the doctrine of the eternal generation of the second person of the Trinity, and with this the truth of the Godhead of Jesus, rests largely on this word in the gospel and first epistle of John. Jesus is God because He is begotten out of the very being of God the Father. The confession at Nicea that Jesus is “of one substance (being) with the Father” was based on the biblical teaching in John that Jesus is the “only begotten.” Omit “begotten,” and you have seriously weakened the doctrine that Jesus is God. Besides, it simply is not true that Jesus is the “one and only” Son of God. Every elect believer is a son or a daughter of God. Jesus has many brothers and sisters.
An error of translation, due to the liberties that the translators felt free to take with the text, with serious implications for the lives of the members of the church is that in I Corinthians 7:15. The text is important for divorce and remarriage. Referring to a believer who has been deserted by an unbelieving husband or wife, the apostle wrote, as the KJV correctly translates, “A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases.” With supreme indifference to the very word inspired by the Spirit, the NIV translates, “A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances.” Whereas the apostle was teaching that the believer abandoned through no fault of his or her own is not in a state of spiritual slavery, the NIV teaches that desertion dissolves the marriage bond, so that the deserted believer is free to divorce and remarry. This mistranslation by the NIV brings Paul into contradiction with the teaching of Jesus, who teaches an unbreakable bond of marriage, and opens the way to grievous sin on the part of the members of the church who take their instruction from the NIV.
A third reason for rejecting the NIV as the modern replacement of the KJV in a Reformed church is the fact that the NIV bases itself in the New Testament on a different Greek text than did the KJV and, in fact, than did all the Bibles of the Reformation. This recently discovered text has significant weaknesses. For one thing, it omits sizable sections of the New Testament, including Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11. The NIV remarks in all these places, “The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have . . . . II Also this Greek text weakens the teaching that Jesus is God and, therefore, the doctrine of the Trinity at certain key places in the New Testament. One example is I Timothy 3:16. Where the KJV correctly has, “… great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh,” the NIV translates, “He appeared in a body.” (This says nothing about the mistake in translating “flesh” as “body.”)
The KJV is the best available translation of Scripture in English. It is not the position of the PRC that the KJV is inspired Scripture in the only form that may ever be used by the English-speaking church. It is conceivable that the Churches would someday decide that the language of the KJV is unclear to the contemporary reader. They might have reference to the archaic terms, e.g., “conversation” for behavior, “wottest” for know, and the like. They might think that the “thee” and “thou” pronouns with their peculiar verb forms, “wast,” “hast,” “wouldest,” and all the rest, should be changed into modern forms.
If ever a change of Bibles would be made, it would be made synodically. No congregation is permitted to replace the KJV on her own. This is not permitted even though as far as I know there has never been a synodical decision declaring the KJV to be the only approved version in the PRC. Use of the same version of the Bible, like use of the same songbook, use of the same translation of the creeds and liturgical forms, and use of the same catechism materials, belongs to the unity of the church as expressed and maintained in the denomination.
A congregation, or individual, convinced that a change is needed would overture synod to study the matter, in order either to adopt a different English version or to arrange for a new translation of Scripture. Such a significant matter as this would demand the wisdom of the multitude of counselors. In such an important matter, the churches would have to act together, that is, synodically.
But this is merely hypothetical. The fact is that the members of the PRC are grateful for the KJV and for the untold blessings that they have received and still do receive from God through this precious English version, God’s Word.
They are thankful also that the prizing of this version is not merely a personal matter with some or even most of them, but an ecclesiastical matter. The KJV is the beloved Bible of the Churches.