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Why Don't You Use The King James Version?

by Stephen Davey

Ronnie sent me an email and asked: 

Why do you use ESV instead of KJV? I have found lots of resources that support KJV. I want to understand from your view point why ESV is an equal translation

Ronnie phrased the question as a choice between the English Standard version and the King James Version, but my options were much more than those two. I also considered the option of the Holeman Bible, the New American Standard Version, and the New Living Translation.

Because I study the text in the original languages of the Bible, I’m not entirely dependent on any translation for my study. But when I teach, I realize that most of the people I’m addressing cannot read Greek or Hebrew, or Aramaic. So I read from an English translation of the Bible - the ESV. Sometimes the Wisdom team will find that I misquoted the ESV because my mind often translates words from Greek or Hebrew instead.

That gets to the heart of what makes a good translation. The objective of a translation is to take the scriptures and faithfully convert (translate) that to a different language. It’s a very difficult task.

The translators of the King James Version did a wonderful job. I have no problem with someone preferring to read from the KJV. The KJV is beloved by millions of people. Unfortunately, some people go so far as to falsely claim that the KJV is the only reliable translation of the Bible. The God-inspired version of the Bible is not the KJV. It is the original writings of the original authors. Translations are critical, and God has providentially preserved His Word so that we could have reliable versions today. And the basis for a reliable translation is to communicate the words and meaning of the original text.

By the way, this is true for every known language. If the KJV was the only trustworthy translation of the Bible, that would exclude billions of non-English speaking people from having access to God’s Word. My prayer is that there will be thousands more translations of the Bible so that people of all tongues will have God’s Word in their native language.

I have found that the New American Standard Bible and the English Standard Version are excellent translations, and I have used both extensively. However, I consider the “title” of the New American Standard Bible to be unfortunate. Since our messages are being accessed in over 150 different countries, in nine languages, this title can cause some confusion. The Bible is not an “American” book. The Bible is for all the nations.

So to sum up my answer, in choosing between the KJV and the ESV, I believe the ESV is more readable to an English audience. The more general title – “The English Standard Version” – also steers clear of communicating that I’m preaching or teaching an “American” gospel, but a global gospel of God’s good news to the nations.

Add a Comment


David says:
Amen, Stephen!
Cindy says:
I wondered why you didn’t use the KJV or even the NKJV. Thanks for clearing that up. I so enjoy your teachings. They have made the Bible so much easier to understand. If I can’t catch the program on BBN, I listen to your online teachings. Have a blessed day! Cindy Collins West Virginia
Dianne Merchant says:
I currently use NAS because that is what my beloved preacher uses, and it’s easier to follow along during worship. I agree that the ESV is also excellent. I enjoy listening to Stephen no matter what translation he’s using.
Joseph Daniel Webb says:
I guess I've agreed with what you wrote since at least 1965.
Tim Fisher says:
I use the ESV. I find it easy to follow and understand. I have it opened as i listen or watch your Sermons and follow along with ESV
Wanda says:
I prefer the ESV, because for me it is more readable. I do use other translations. Language does change over the years. Some of the words that were used with the KJV we no longer use or the meaning may have changed. Also sentence structure can be different.
Rex says:
As expounded teachable answer to the audience. You're a very wise man, that no one questions how thorough you study the Word of God. May our God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ continue to Bless you and you're ministry at Shepherds Church. Look forward to seeing you soon from Winston Salem.
Steve says:
I like the NIV, NKJV, Message and John MacArthur study Bible.
Rick Fox says:
Well stated! Thank you Pastor Stephen.
Rick Richards says:
Thank you for that explanation. I was privileged to minor in Greek at BJU and then did a year of graduate Greek. Virtually all of my Bible memory is from the KJV (I have been doing more from the ESV since so many of my SS members are using it) and I appreciate your reverence for the eternal word.
georgia kirkland says:
Tony Sirmons says:
Good morning Dr.Davey thanks so much for your comments and thoughts on this topic I say Amen.

I attended and graduated from a kjv only Bible Institute with a Degree In Bible and one In Theology was taught I should only Preach and teach using only the kjv as the only exceptable Version or translation for the English speaking people.

However for many years this philosophy of thinking has always left me fill with questions. But after spending must time in prayer studying and research The Holy Spirit Of God has convicted and corrected my way thinking concerning this matter of kjv only . The ESV NASV and other translations are just as good. GOD BLESSING upon your labor in THE LORD.
Terry H Moseley says:
I prefer the NLT, much easier to understand as I am not a fan of 13th century English. All those thee's and thou's make things very confusing in my simple mind. I don't believe I had ever heard of the ESV before this. I might give it a try. However, I do have a copy of the KJV and the NKJV which I refer back to now and then. Holeman's is a good one also. But I had a very hard time in high school with understanding words and their meanings, so the easier for me to understand, the better. The main thing is to read God's word. I also like cross reading with the Christian Jewish Bible, for I have found a lot of Hebrew words have been mis translated for many moons and its good to find what was actually meant.
Dr. Rex Duff says:
Because I believe the TR is the correct Greek text, not the Alexandrian 2 manuscripts, I use the NKJV, as the best Greek Translation into English.
R. Pounder says:
Yes, I agree, the prefix ‘American’ could be confusing in the same way that ‘British’ could be if there were such a Bible. Whereas the prefix ‘English’ merely alludes to the language and not the nation.
Bill and Carolynn says:
Great answer! concise and quite clear
Valarie says:
I use a Bible that has the King James version and the NIV version side by side so I read the KJV verse and scan across to get a better understanding of what the verse says. Sometimes its hard to understand the KJV.
Laverne Strother says:
I am strongly committed to " The Hold Bible" The King James Version is the only Bible God has consecrated to his elect people to study for Instructions, Directions, and Correction. Here's why KJV is the first translation of the original words of God from Hebrew and Aramaic into English. Secondly, these original words process the power of the Holy Spirit to provoke and encourage the changing of hearts and minds which is an undeniable spiritual fact through the spirit. ESV and NIV should only be used as a reference for words, not daily reading. Finally, Deuteronomy 4:2 commands to me. Not to add to or take away from God's words possible from an early age The Holy Bible was my choice to read. Having skimmed NIV, I found it like sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal; hollow with no power. I mean no disrespect, only there are two things we all can grow in Christ's personality prayer, and reading " Holy Bible ". Thanks for the chance to share
John Quinlan says:
I have a dear friend who loves the Lord and loves to promote Jesus Christ, but he is adamant about King James Version only. I understand his concern because a number of the modern versions are not good, but I totally agree with you that there are other good translations besides King James. It is unfortunate that some are KJV only and there are a lot of folks that they just won't be able to reach. Jesus was not about putting hurdles and barriers in front of sincere seekers.
Ben Lonto says:
I use the KJV for the start of class teaching, then use Strong's Concordance, The Interlinear Bible, NLT, HCSB, and 3 sets of commentaries for exegesis.
Roger says:
Thanks, well said, I use both the New A S and the ESV. I'm with the under standing that KJV people prefure because that is what they grew up with. But I again say lets use the words that we us today. why have trouble trying to under stand what the text says ? In Christ Jesus Roger. 1 Peter 1:9 ESV
Dale Hobbs says:
I humbly agree with you 100%. In my studies to share scripture over the last 20 years, I often look at the Greek and Hebrew. I use the ESV most often. I have formulated an answer very similar to yours for those who are "stuck" on one version. I am flexible when it comes to versions but, you Pastor Stephen are the first "Version" I listen to when I wake up every morning ! Thank you for your Great exposition of God's word !
Charlene says:
Hi Stephen, several family members are very devoted followers of the KJV-only movement. The independent fundamental Baptists are the problem, I've found, by far and has actually said to me in all seriousness that if a person is not saved via the KJV, then they weren't actually saved! Another has said that non-native English speakers around the world should only use the KJV to learn English that way (never mind the fact many words are not used anymore!). They say all other translations are corrupt, filled with errors, and leave out many crucial phrases and words. They truly believe the KJV is THE preserved word of God and has zero errors in it...I have given up on trying to convince these people as they seem brainwashed. Do you have any advice on how to defend the New King James Version (which i like) or similar? Thank you.
Bob says:
What Spanish translation is used?

Note from Wisdom: The Spanish Bible we use is called REINA-VALERA 1960
Keeva Cook says:
That was a very enlightening answer. Thank you. I recently purchased and have been using the ESV Study Bible and I highly recommend it. It has commentary and notes on each verse that are very helpful in understanding the Scriptures.
Gary Robinson says:
I understand your reasoning regarding the translations, and agree that the gospel should be made known as accurately as possible to all people groups. I prefer using the KJV for my own reading and studies because I have used and memorized it for over 70 years. To change now would feel uncomfortable. I understand the old english meanings and they are not a problem for me. My son uses the ESV, that was his preference early on. If you can understand what you are reading and can convey that message to another accurately, then preferences are simply that, preferences! Thank you for your ministry, I follow your devotionals daily.
Michael Shelton says:
I was saved when I was 36 years old (1981). I immediately started to investigate different Bible translations. My most important consideration was a translation that was as close to word for word as possible, and still be readable. I settled on the New American Standard because it appeared to most closely meet what I was looking for. I now enjoy studying from the ESV, NKJV, HCS, as well as the NASB, and occasionally other translations. I do not like paraphrases because I think they take a lot of liberties with God's Word. I view paraphrases the same as commentaries. I listen to Dr. Davey as much as I can, and read many of his sermons. God bless him.
Juliet Limmer says:
I enjoyed reading your helpful response to the person who asked why you don't use KJV. You mentioned that you use original languages mostly, but when you reference an English language Bible, you use ESV. While the ESV is generally easy to understand by people for whom English is their first language, it is often challenging to understand for people for whom English is a second (or third) language. Because of the level of vocabulary, use of idioms and rhetorical questions, the ESV may not be a good choice for many people.

The New Living Translation (NLT) has deliberately attempted to take these things into account. The translators have used easier-to-understand language, avoided idioms, explained implicit information, reworded rhetorical questions, and more in an attempt to make the English Bible more accessible.
tammy L dresner says:
I enjoy reading the NKJV, but I also like comparing the different versions. I listen to Brother Davey every morning knowing that I am getting the best translation that I have ever found. Thanks and God bless'
Greg Hartline says:
I now prefer the CSB Bible still love the NASB it is all Gods Holy word
Paul Day says:
What matters is to have The One Holy Unchangeable Uncreated Spirit Of Our Creator, Messiah And God Interpretation that is for everything that is created (all creation), which the natural, created or earthly minded person cannot Understand because that testimony is about Our Creator God Which Is Supernaturally, Heavenly Or Spiritually Discerned.
Roy Gerard says:
I grew up catholic. I was saved at 21. One of my more 'spiritual' family members tried to counter my newfound love of the bible with "well, you know, the church has biblical scholars who interpret the bible for us, so we don't really need to read it."
That conversation was burned into my soul, and for the past 49 years I have been devoted to ferreting out the Truth. When I come across the 'which translation is better' conversation I have to walk away and cool down.
I have often wondered what kind of grief Jerome put up with after he translated the scriptures into Latin from Greek?
Or better yet, how about when King James (the man) replaced the word 'departure' in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 with 'apostasy' because he was countering the Catholic church's charge against him for wanting a divorce? Then the Douay-Rheims (Catholic translation) change the word 'apostasy' to 'revolt' because they were chagrined with the Reformation. And oh, by the way, King James had his translators remove all the notes that were in the Geneva bible... can't have the commoners understand too much now, can we?
Steven, since you are a student of history, you may have read the book Bible and the Sword, by Barbara Tuchman? Pages 97-98 speak of a young man named John Porter who knew how to read. He would read the 'Great Bible', then recently authorized by King Henry in England around 1528. This was when bibles were chained to the pulpits in the cathedrals. He would read to those who DID NOT KNOW HOW TO READ, and he was eventually thrown into Newgate prison for it, where he died... because he read the bible, and others were blessed.
Finally, when I hear of saints today in the underground church in China tearing out sections of scripture and passing them around the group because, 1. There are so few bibles available because, 2. Being in possession of a bible could cost them their lives, I grow impatient with 'American' Christianity.
So I leave you with this: Be thankful you have a bible. Be thankful you know how to read. Especially, be thankful Jesus Christ sent the Holy Spirit (Jn.14 -16) as He promised, to guide you and me into 'all the truth.' There is no other way to find out how to be born again and inherit eternal life.
So can we leave off the nonessential, immaterial, irrelevant discussion about which translation is best?
Thank you.
Stephaney Grooms says:
I started with the KJV, growing up, but found its lofty wording difficult to follow. I then asked for an International version and then the Living Bible came out and I compared it, scripture-to-scripture, to the International and found too much 'slang' in the Living Bible. Slang, or more casual words, didn't reflect the seriousness or authority of the scriptures in my opinion. I now have an ESV and love it, knowing that some words in every language do not have a companion word in another language, I hope the translators have done their very best to find comparison words that reflect the full meaning of the scripture.
Phyllis says:
I think you taught from the NASB in the 90's. I was given a NASB Bible in the late 70's. I still use it, and understand your reasons for using the ESV. I have verses memorized in NASB, and love when you quote scripture in your sermons. I find myself saying many with you. Your teaching has been a blessing in my life.
George says:
I only use KJV. I go to a Baptist Church that uses KJV. KJV isn't really that difficult to understand. It was written on a 5th grade reading level.
Kevin white says:
The King James Version does Not capitalize The pronouns pretaining to GOD ALMIGHTY.But The New King James does. Which translation has more respect for Our Great GOD and KING ?
Patricia Martin says:
I have recently begun using the ESV. It is readable and recommended by John MacArthur (and Stephen Davey), both men I highly regard. I work for Child Evangelism Fellowship and they produce all their curriculum in KJV and ESV so I also enjoy the KJV. It is what I grew up reading and learned most of my verses from it.
Nancy says:
Amen to all! I have used NKJV for many years & memorized from that version so I continue to use it. But I really like ESV too and so grateful for your teaching! I have the privilege to give the gospel to ladies I serve at a ministry and we have many NLT New Testaments to give out, (also ESVs). I never liked for myself the NLT personally being a paraphrase. Even as a very young child, reading the KJV or NKJV sounded authoritative and coming from God whereas I wonder if I would have felt the same conviction, etc. with the NLT. But in our present and somewhat illiterate culture, now I am thinking the NLT is a blessing to those who might not otherwise read a Bible. As you well know there are definitely a couple versions out there to avoid completely. Thank you again so much for your ministry!
Jason says:
I think when the NASB says “American” it’s not necessarily implying that it is exclusively for Americans but rather it’s an English translation worded more in the way Americans use English rather than, for example, British people.
Jesse Knapp says:
Disappointed this ministry doesn't use KJV. It's the only one for me. Beautifully written.