KJV vs. NKJV: Similarities and Differences

What is KJV?

The King James Version or the Authorized Bible was commissioned in 1604 and published in 1611. At that time, multiple versions of the Bible created inconsistencies between devotees. King James I decided to spearhead a project consisting of multiple scholars and translators to provide a version that would conform to the beliefs of the Church of England.

Among the notable points in the history of the KJV is the revision of 1631 known as the Wicked Bible. Errors in a publication made this edition omit the word “not” in one of the Ten Commandments, “Thou shall not commit adultery”, thus, earning the book its name. A year later, the court fined the publishers Robert Barker and Martin Lucas for the Bible errata.

What is NKJV?

First commissioned in 1975, the Thomas Nelson publishing company and a team of publishers, 130 scholars, and church leaders meticulously created an English translation of the Bible intending to be as faithful as the King James Version. After seven years (1982), the NKJV was finally published with an updated English grammar and vocabulary many are familiar with using today.

In the USA, the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association hailed the NKJV as the sixth best-selling Bible version of 2022.

Similarities of KJV and NKJV

Source: Textus Receptus

Textus Receptus is the Latin for “Received Text”. In the 15th century, the movable printing press was invented and Latin Vulgate was the first printed Bible. Then, people rediscovered Greek as the original language of the New Testament. Scholars found many errors in the Latin Vulgate. Erasmus seized this opportunity to beat another Greek New Testament translation at work in Spain. He hurriedly collected about five to six hand-copied Greek manuscripts without transcribing them, and instead, wrote notes. Then, Erasmus gave them to the printers. Due to overwhelming criticism, however, Erasmus published two new editions that include the New Testament from Spain. Textus Receptus is also the basis of the Bishop’s Bible and the Geneva Bible. It was further refined by many scholars like Robert Estienne, Theodore Beza, and F.H.A. Scrivener. Textus Receptus strongly upholds the Christian faith and it was believed to be uncorrupted.

Both the KJV and NKJV Bible base their writings on Textus Receptus, with the latter being a touch-up version of the former. 

Influence

The KJV is undeniably the most influential version of the Bible. From this came plenty of phrases we read and hear every day such as “the tongue is like a two-edged sword”. Additionally, the King James Version of the Bible was created during the golden age of literature in England – late 16th century to early 17th century, Elizabethan period, around the same time works of Shakespeare are celebrated. If we were to quote Victor Hugo, “England has two books, the Bible and Shakespeare. England made Shakespeare, but the Bible made England.” This is true, as although England paved the way for Protestantism, Catholics use the KJV Bible as well. The NKJV doesn’t fall far from its predecessor, as we see in a verse in I Corinthians 13:7 “Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” NKJV only changed a few words to fit modern vocabulary: “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Word-for-word Translation

Arthur Farstad, the executive editor of Thomas Nelson when the NKJV was on its pioneering stage, adapted the philosophy of complete equivalence. Think of Google Translate when someone mentions word-for-word translation. This means the translation is done omitting personal interpretations or cultural differences as much as possible. Both the KJV and NKJV strived to retain the original form of the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts accurately.

Differences between KJV and NKJV

Readability

The use of archaic language in KJV is confusing in the modern use of the English language. Take the first book of Corinthians 10:25 as an example: “Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake:” Younger readers may understand shambles as a state of total disarray. Whereas in Old English, shambles means marketplace or meat market, as updated on the NKJV Bible: “Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience’ sake;” This verse argues how food offered to idols is sinful versus how Apostle Paul explains that it is fine to buy and eat food sold in the market, as all of them are offered to idols. If they can’t buy anything, what are they to eat, then? The Corinthians must understand that idols are imaginary – food is only food, nothing else. However, they should be careful not to associate themselves with demons; though idols are false, demons are real.

Target Audience/Purpose

The KJV was created to make the Bible accessible to the general populace, but this would be only true in ancient times. Since language evolves, we must take into consideration grammar, vocabulary, word structure, and order. Reading the Bible was appealing to the masses at that time because they use the same Old English they spoke every day. On the other hand, the NKJV targets the general population, including children. As such, the NKJV’s reading level applies to Grade 7 and higher.

Pronouns

Arguably, one of the most prominent changes in the NKJV Bible is the use of modern pronouns. Thou is a second-person singular subjective pronoun while thee serves the same purpose albeit it is for objective pronouns. Thine is a possessive pronoun and ye is a subjective plural pronoun. The NKJV replaced them with an all-familiar you and yours. Critics pointed out these changes in modern translations; readers may misinterpret the meaning altogether. Take John 3:7 as an example: “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.” Our Lord Jesus Christ is talking to Nicodemus about people that need to be born again, but in NKJV translation, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” The verse would confuse the readers that Jesus is talking to Nicodemus about him being born again.

Textual Criticism

Despite the similarity in sources, though, the NKJV follows textual criticism, a branch of scholarship which aims to collect data from various sources, study how each one is reliable, and make the best version as correctly and accurately from the source. This means that NKJV includes Alexandrian manuscripts and not from Textus Receptus alone.

Conclusion

There are several translations of the Bible available today, but you must take note of the pros and cons of each before deciding which one to keep. NKJV kept most of the stylistic prose and cadence of KJV while appealing to the modern English world. Some critics are not impressed with the 1982 version, as they said that the newer version corrupted the holy book, but some also say it is the most accurate translation available. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide. We hope we can help you through this article.