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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
© Copyright 1999 by the author.
Reproduction and distribution rights assigned to the Dean Burgon Society.
In presenting the following paper, I realize I am treading on dangerous ground insofar as many staunch defenders of the Authorized Version are concerned. Let me say at the beginning, the following is not an attack on any person or work defending the Authorized Version of the Holy Scriptures. My intent is not to attack nor demean my fellow believers in the Grand Old Book, but to set forth a reasoned and well researched examination of the facts of our defense of the King James Bible.
In reading and discussing the issue of Bible transmission, I have encountered many well-intentioned Christians who have voiced a defense of the Authorized Version that, on the surface, may seem reasonable and logical, but, when examined in depth, is found to be wanting. The following are the author's conclusions regarding some of these common defenses of our English Bible.
Fallacy #1 - The King James Version is not now and never has been copyrighted.
"I believe the King James Bible is the work of God and not of man due to the fact that it is not now and never has been copyrighted."
I hear this "defense" of our Authorized Version of the Bible quite often, and even heard a testimony of this being the deciding factor in a man being convinced of the superiority of the King James Version at last year's Dean Burgon Society meeting in Grayling, Michigan.
Although I rejoice with the man giving the testimony, in that he has arrived at a position of knowing which Bible is God's preserved word in English, I must say I would be more comfortable if he had discovered God's Truth via a more defensible pathway.
The facts are, of course, somewhat different from the above quoted statement. While it is true that the Authorized Version of the Holy Scriptures has never been copyrighted in the United States, it is not true that the Authorized Version has never been copyrighted at all.
Upon publication of the Authorized Version in 1611, King James I of England assigned to that great work a "Cum Privilegio" (Latin: with privilege). The Cum Privilegio was issued in the form of a "Patent" which is very much like our copyright. However, the King realized that patent (copyright) law stated that a patent or copyright was only good for the life of the person holding the copyright, plus 50 years, so, instead of placing the patent in his name, or the names of the translation committee members, he issued the patent in the name of the Crown (a "Royal Letters Patent in Perpetuity"). In this way, he was able to secure the patent for the duration of the British Crown, plus 50 years. This means that it will never come into the public domain unless HM the Queen or one of her successors releases the patent.
According to British law, in England, the printing of the Authorized or King James Version of the Bible (KJV) is the monopoly of the Royal Printer, by virtue of a patent first granted to Christopher Barker in 1577. Only the University Presses of Cambridge and Oxford are permitted by royal charter to override this monopoly; one other publisher, Scottish, is an accepted printer of these materials. (By its royal charter of 1534, the University of Cambridge had acquired the perpetual right to appoint three printers who could print "all manner of books." The right preexisted Barker's patent, and was taken to cover Bibles, so Cambridge printed a Geneva Bible in 1591 and its first KJV in 1629. Out of fairness Oxford acquired a similar charter in 1636, and in the 1670's printed Bibles.)
So the first AV Bibles published in England were the work of the Royal Printer (in the early 17th century, that would have been Robert Barker, Printer to the King's Most Excellent Majesty, according to the title page of the 1611 edition of the AV).
Although the universities (Oxford and Cambridge) always claimed the right to print the Bible, Cambridge had not exercised that right since the year 1589; but in 1628 a duodecimo New Testament was published at Cambridge, by the printers to the University, and the following year Thomas and John Buck issued the first complete Cambridge Bible. The University of Oxford did not begin to print Bibles until the year 1675, when the first was issued in quarto size; the spelling having been revised by Dr. John Fell, Dean of Oxford.
The only exception to the above was a small octavo Testament issued at Edinburgh, by the Heirs of Hart, in 1628 (the Anfro Hart whose "Breeches" Bible was so highly esteemed). This is the first Testament printed in Scotland of the King James Version, and it was the Heirs of Hart who were included in the Royal Patent of 1577, as noted above.
Today, all Bibles printed in England are printed by the university presses of either Oxford or Cambridge.
However, the good King did not take into account that one day his nation would enter into an agreement with the other major powers of the world whereby they would honor each other's laws regarding copyright and patents. Today, we have international copyright laws that are honored by all signatory nations. Unfortunately for the King and his descendants, but fortunate for us, the "Crown Patent" did not fall within the agreed upon guidelines for International Copyright (due to the patent being in the name of the Crown instead of in the name of an individual), so the Authorized Version of the English Bible was never included in the international agreement.
Therefore, the Authorized Version is not copyrighted in the United States, nor any other country, except the British Empire, or Commonwealth Nations which have agreed to abide by the patent laws of Great Britain. However, the patent is still in force in Great Britain, and all Authorized Version Bibles printed in Great Britain are printed under the patent agreements with Cambridge and Oxford.
The argument has often been made by able defenders of the King James Bible that the above is not true for there were many Bibles printed by those not having a license under the "Cum Privilegio." However well intentioned these good people may be, it must be pointed out that none of the Bibles in question (with one exception) were printed in the British Empire.
In the year 1642, a folio edition of the King James Version was printed at Amsterdam by "Joost Broersz, dwelling in the Pijlsteegh, in the Druckerije." The notes of the King James Bible are omitted, and the arguments and annotations of the "Breeches" Bible are inserted in their place. Bibles with the KJV text but with Geneva notes were printed in Holland in 1642, 1672, 1683, 1708, 1715 and in England in 1649. It must be noted that the English printing of 1649 was done during the English Civil War (1642-1653, which resulted in the arrest of Charles I in 1647, and his beheading January 30, 1649, and the exile of the Royal Heir, Charles II, to Holland). It was during this period of civil unrest, when the consensus of opinion was that the Royal family had no rights or privileges, and there was no King in England, that the Royal Patent was ignored.
If the fact that the King James Bible is not under copyright in the US indicates that it is the word of God and not the words of men, as the newer versions are indicated to be by virtue of their copyright, does that also mean, as the KJV is under copyright in England, that it is not the word of God in that country?
To me, the copyright argument does not prove anything other than that currently if you want to print the NIV you have to pay to do so, but you do not have to receive anyone's permission to print the KJV in this country. However, one hundred years from now (or even 75 years from now) the copyright on the NIV will cease and anyone can print it without permission or payment. Will the NIV be a better or more accurate version in 50 or 75 years when its copyright expires?
I don't think so. The argument dealing with copyright is weak at best, and deceitful at worst. There are so many good reasons to believe in the superiority of the King James Bible; it seems odd to me to use a false argument to support a book of Truth.
Fallacy #2 - Double Inspiration
The term "double inspiration" is not used, to the best of my knowledge, by any defender of the KJV. However, what is taught by some concerning the inspiration of the KJV is often so close to double inspiration, that I believe we must deal with this fallacy.
By "double inspiration" I refer to what is being taught by those who believe the KJV was/is inspired in the same way the "originals" were/are inspired. I believe this argument is, for the most part, one of semantics. However, there are enough good honest Christians out there who entertain the notion that the KJV was given to us in exactly the same manner as the autographa that we need to clarify some terms.
Is our King James Bible inspired? Yes, and no. Yes, our King James Bible is vested with derivative inspiration. By derivative inspiration I mean simply that inspiration transcends translation. In other words, our King James Bible is vested with derivative inspiration by virtue of the inspired manuscripts from which it was translated. However, the claim made by some that the King James Bible "is inspired exactly like the original manuscripts" is a position that cannot be supported from scripture, and has given our detractors sufficient ammunition to label us as ignorant and cultic.
I have heard some people go so far as to say that the translators of our English Bible were inspired just like the Prophets of the Old Testament and the Apostles of the New Testament. I realize that the Bible teaches that all scripture is given by inspiration of God; however, we must be careful to differentiate between direct inspiration and derivative inspiration. To suggest that the King James Bible is given by direct inspiration of God is to diminish the doctrine of inspiration to the point of being meaningless. God has by means of Providential preservation overseen the historic transmission of His word down through the ages of church and ecclesiastical history.
The inspired, inerrant, infallible nature of the scriptures has been preserved by God so that, when a proper methodology or technique of translation is employed, the inspired, inerrant, infallible nature of the original is preserved in the transmission process resulting in the verbal and formal equivalent of the inspired originals in the receptor language. In that sense our English Bible is inspired, and we can honestly say to those to whom we teach and preach that the English Bible is the inspired word of God. However, care must be taken whenever we discuss the inspiration of the Bible that we do not detract from that unique process of inspiration which God employed to give the Prophets of the Old Testament and the Apostles of the New Testament the autographs.
Providential preservation of the scriptures insures the accurate transmission of God's words into the receptor language when proper translation techniques are employed. I recently read an astonishing statement written by a major opponent of the King James Bible position, who stated, "God willed that His Church should enjoy the benefit of His written word, at once as a rule of doctrine and as a guide unto holy living.
For this cause He so enlightened the minds of the Apostles and Evangelists by His Spirit, that they recorded what He had imprinted on their hearts or brought to their remembrance, without the risk of error in anything essential to the verity of the Gospel. But this main point once secured, the rest was left, in a great measure, to themselves."
It seems to me that the above statement indicates a failure to understand not only the doctrine of Bible preservation, but also of Bible inspiration. This gentleman seems to believe that both the inspiration and preservation of God's word are the result of primarily the actions and activities of mere men. He seems to believe that God helped a little, but man was left "in great measure" to his own humanistic devices.
Unfortunately, it seems that supposed Bible believing man err all too often to one extreme or the other. God fully inspired His word once, and did such a good job that it did not have to be done again 1600 years later!
How then should we refer to our King James Bibles? Should we publicly state that our English Bibles are the inspired, inerrant, preserved word of God? I believe we should. There are many good men who disagree with me in this area; however, it is my conviction that the Christian in the pew must be taught that his Bible is authoritative, trustworthy, and correct. The debate concerning the issue of direct inspiration versus derivative inspiration is best left to the theologians and academicians.
Fallacy #3 - Advanced Revelation
This position is at best confusing as to what exactly is meant by the term "Advanced Revelation." There seems to be a group of well-meaning Christians who advocate the King James Bible as a source of new revelation not known prior to 1611. They seem to say that new doctrine and understanding can be gleaned from the King James Bible which hitherto had been unknown to diligent students of the Bible, while others claim the term simply means English speakers unfamiliar with Hebrew and Greek receive much more from the English Bible then they do from Bibles written in languages in which they have no expertise. I will deal with the first definition of this term, as I believe the second definition to be a watering down of the actual original meaning of the term to avoid the appearance of error.
I believe, perhaps, the source of this misunderstanding concerning Advanced Revelation may be in failing to recognize the true repository of biblical doctrine. If the established church (the state church of Rome) or its progeny (the Reformed or Protestant churches) are assumed to be the repository of Bible doctrine, then the above assertion may be correct in that such ecclesiastical organizations have historically been doctrinally weak and scripturally lacking in their understanding of New Testament Truth.
However, if you understand the historic preservation of "the faith once delivered" to have been accomplished in the dissenting churches, and that true Bible doctrine has been known, understood, and practiced, all down through the ages of church and ecclesiastical history, and that no new revelation has been given to Christ's true churches since the closing of the Canon of scripture with the penning of the final "Amen" of the book of the Revelation, then it is obvious that the "Advanced Revelation" theory is spurious.
I have heard it argued that the term "Advanced Revelation" simply means that the nuances of the English reveal more than the underlying word in Hebrew or Greek. This view is, in my opinion, based on an inadequate understanding of the Hebrew and Greek languages, which also contain the same nuances for those who have a first-language expertise in those tongues. All too often such determinations are based on the entirely inadequate lexicography of Strong's Concordance, which gives only roots and stems, and not an exhaustive etymology and philology of the original.
It must be understood that the doctrine of Providential Preservation demands that all of God's word has been not only preserved, but available to all of God's people down through the ages of church and ecclesiastical history. If God has not made all of his revelation available to all generations from the time of the closing of the Canon until today, then He has failed to fulfill His promise as given in Psalm 12: 6 & 7.
If the concept of "Advanced Revelation" is correct, then we have no warrant to deny the "visions" and "prophecies" of the Pentecostals and Charismatics. It is dangerous ground to allow additional post-canonical revelation for some but deny it for others.
What then should our attitude be toward those who have arrived at the same conclusion as we have, but by a different path of reasoning?
Let us imagine we're traveling down a freeway and pass the landmark called Inspiration Point. For the sake of argument let's assume that Inspiration Point illustrates the biblical doctrine of Divine Inspiration. As we continue along the freeway we pass an exit marked Rest Area. Continuing farther along our way we pass another landmark called Providential Preservation. As we pass Providential Preservation, we come to a town in which is located our destination, called King James Plaza.
As we stand in King James Plaza and admire The Grand Old Book, our King James Bible, we become aware of a fellow traveler on the freeway heading towards town. However, this fellow seems to be a bit confused, for rather than continuing on the freeway leading into town and ultimately to King James Plaza, he, for some unknown reason, has turned left on No Copyright Road.
He continues along No Copyright Road until he comes to Double Inspiration Boulevard where he makes a right turn. He continues along Double Inspiration Boulevard until he comes to Advanced Revelation Way, where he makes another right hand turn and wanders through the foothills north of town until the road ends. As he sits at the end the road he notices across the meadow in front of him a fence behind which is a row of houses. He guns the engine of his car and it speeds across the meadow and smashes through the fence into the backyard of an unsuspecting homeowner. He slips around the house, skids across the front yard, bumps over the curb, speeds down a side street and crashes into King James Plaza!
How should we react to this fellow traveler who has arrived at the same place we are at, but by an entirely different route? In my opinion he is a fellow traveler who has arrived at the right place by all the wrong methods. We may not admire his navigation abilities, but we have to agree with his final destination. In my not-entirely-humble opinion this man is by far more in agreement with our position then the fellow who got off the freeway at the rest stop before ever arriving at Providential Preservation Point, and never got back on the freeway. In other words, he stopped to think and forgot to start again!
The believer who has full confidence in his King James Bible as the preserved word of God in the English language is my fellow traveler -- considerably more so then the believer who refuses to see God's marvelous Providential Preservation of our King James Bible.
Think about it.