Were the King James Version Translators Biased Toward the “Faith-Only” Doctrine?
“In your commentary on the book of Acts, you cited an author who suggested that the translators of the King James Version had a denominational bias that inclined toward the ‘faith-only’ doctrine. What is the basis of this charge?”
The King James Version is an old and respected translation of the Holy Scriptures. We have a very high regard for this popular version. Its translators attempted to reproduce the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek original text into the English tongue in a faithful way.
In considering any version, however, it must be acknowledged that the translator brings some of his theological background “to the table” in producing his work. Such was no less true of the KJV scholars.
Here are some tell-tale facts regarding the KJV:
(1) When the King James translators rendered Acts 2:47 with the words, “such as should be saved,” they ignored the Greek present tense form, “are being saved.” The KJV thus yields a sense that accommodates the denominational notion of predestination.
Professor E.H. Plumptre of Kings College in London, one of the translators of the Revision (1881) of the KJV, noted:
“This verse takes its place among the few passages in which the translators [of the KJV] have, perhaps, been influenced by Calvinistic bias” (Ellicott’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1959, VII, p. 16).
Plumptre also cited Hebrews 10:38 as a similar example.
(2) Instead of granting a pure translation to the Greek verb baptizo which signifies “immerse,” the KJV translators (and most others since) have sought to conceal the original meaning of the term in order to placate those who believe that “sprinkling” and “pouring” are acceptable substitutes for immersion. There is simply no question that bias was involved in this procedure.
(3) The Greek term for “believe” is pisteuo. To assert the opposite idea, the Greeks simply added an “a” (a negative prefix) to the front of the word. Hence, apistia is “unbelief” (Heb. 3:12), and apistos is rendered “unbelievers” (1 Cor. 6:6) or “faithless” (Mt. 17:17).
On the other hand, there is another Greek word, apeitheo, which is found sixteen times in the New Testament. It literally means to “not obey,” or, to say the same thing in another way, to “disobey.” In spite of this clear difference in meaning, the KJV translators rendered apeitheo by “believe not” (or a similar equivalent) some nine times out of the sixteen.
Compare the KJV with the ASV in John 3:36. The former renders apeitheo by “believeth not,” while the ASV translators correctly render the term as “obeyeth not.” The KJV obscures the truth that belief is more than a mere mental process; rather, it entails obedience.
Professor J. Carl Laney has written: “This text indicates clearly that belief is not a matter of passive opinion, but decisive and obedient action” (John: Moody Gospel Commentary, Chicago: Moody, 1992, p. 87).
But such a rendition is not consistent with the “faith-only” position. Hence, some scholars believe that the KJV translators revealed something of their “faith-only” bias by translating apeitheo as “believeth not,” instead of “obeyeth not.”
Arndt and Gingrich, in their Greek-English Lexicon (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1967), expose their own bias by preferring “disbelieve” as a translation of apeitheo, though they concede that this rendition is “greatly disputed” and “is not found outside our lit[erature]” (p. 82).
We show no disrespect to the overall integrity of the KJV when we concede that it has its weaknesses, just as any translation may.
For a more detailed – yet balanced – discussion of this theme, see our booklet, “The Bible Translation Controversy”.