4: The lie of the KJV revisions

By Jim MacIntosh

The committee that carried out the 1881 Revision, and the committees that created all of the subsequent modern versions of the Bible have all used the argument that, because there were previous revisions to the 1611 text of the King James Version, there is no reason to object to yet another revision. This argument is based on a claim that there were four earlier revisions to the KJV. This is a false claim. There have been no revisions to the text of the KJV. There were, in the early years after its first printing, new editions to clean up printing errors, printing styles, and spelling errors. But there have been no revisions made to the text as produced by the translators. To call the editions revisions is akin to having a university student present a report in Times New Roman font and then present the same report in Arial font, and claim the second to be a major revision to the first.

Although the printing press had been invented 161 years earlier, printing in 1611 was still very slow and difficult. All of the type was set by hand, one character at a time through the entire Bible. Any completed book was expected to have some printing errors, and the first printings of the Bible were no different. Correcting those obvious printing errors involved nothing like the major textual alterations that are to be found in modern Bibles.

Consider the second edition of the first printing in 1629, only 18 years after the very first printing. Among the people who worked on the second printing were Dr. Samuel Ward and John Bois, two of the people who worked on the very first printing. The next edition was only nine years later, in 1638. These two editions, both completed within 27 years of the original printing and while at least two of the men who worked on the first printing were still alive, account for the vast majority of the changes that have been made, including 72 percent of the textual changes.

The third and fourth editions were actually two parts of the same process, started in 1762 and completed in 1769, and they involved primarily the standardization of the spelling of various words.

Exactly what types of changes were made in these subsequent editions of the 1611 text? In addition to the actual typographical errors that had occurred, we can divide the changes up into three categories: printing changes, spelling changes, and textual changes.

Printing changes: The most significant difference in the appearance of the KJV from the first printing to the second edition 18 years later occurred because of printing changes. Although they involved absolutely no changes to the actual content of the text, these changes radically altered the appearance of the text. The first printing in 1611 was done in what is called Gothic Type style. This was a beautiful but difficult to read style that was changed for the Roman Type style in the second edition. Not only did the change to the Roman Type style make the Bible much more readable, but it also eliminated some confusing aspects of the Gothic Type style. For example, the letter "s" when used at the beginning or in the middle of a word looked like the Roman "f". So a Roman "also" looked like "alfo" in Gothic, and a Roman "set" looked like "fet". Similar confusing issues existed with the letters "j", "u", and "v". Switching to Roman Type eliminated these issues. When the critics of the KJV refer to the thousands of alterations made to the original 1611 text, they are actually referring primarily to the change in the type that was used. Not one word changed! A revision? I think not!

Spelling changes: Although the English language had become well standardized by 1611, spelling of words had not become standardized. That is the reason for the changes that were made in 1762 and 1769, when spelling had become standardized. What did the editors change? Just the spelling of many of the words! In earlier printings, people spelled words as they pleased, with no consistency even within the same book. One of the inconsistencies, for example, was to add the letter "e" at the end of many words. That is why earlier printings included such spellings as "hee", "shee", "feare", "darke", and "beare". Double consonants were also much more common. The word "ran" could appear as "ranne", for example. But by the eighteenth century, spelling of words had become standardized. So the editors in 1762 and 1769 primarily applied standardized spelling to the text. In this process, they did not change one word from what was intended by the translators. A revision? Of course not!

Textual changes: But there were some textual changes made during this time, if you can call them textual changes. In total, some 400 textual changes have been made since the 1611 printing. While that might sound like a large number, it represents fewer than one change for every three chapters in the Bible. That is insignificant compared to the sweeping changes made by modern versions, which have several changes made in virtually every verse. So, what were those changes? Actually, they were merely the insertion or correction of words or phrases that the original printers accidentally dropped or misspelled when they were setting up the type. They were definitely not changes made for the purpose of altering the meaning. For example, in Matthew 6:3, the phrase "let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth" was originally printed "let not thy left hand know what thy right doeth" - the word "hand" was accidentally dropped by the 1611 printers. This was corrected only two years later! In fact, three quarters of the textual corrections were completed within the first 30 years. All of the textual changes are of this nature, all of them! The only one that could possibly have a doctrinal impact is in Psalm 69:32, where the 1611 reading was "seek good", which the editors changed to "seek God". This was obviously just a printing error (the adding of a single letter), and it was corrected by 1617. Can these textual changes be considered revisions? Not that I can see.


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