23 Dec 2008

Campbell & The King James Version

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Alexander Campbell, Bible, Church History, Exegesis, King James Version, Ministry, Preaching, Restoration History

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In our last post we noted the emergence of Campbell’s Living Oracles. Though at the time it was reviled by fundamentalist preachers, especially among the Baptists, it has been viewed by scholars since in a positive light. Marion Simms classic, The Bible in America: Versions That Have Played Their Part in the Making of the Republic, makes this statement about the Living Oracles,

Campbell was a man of scholarly attainments, and it was the unsatisfactory character of the King James Version chiefly that inspired his effort to provide a better text, and while at it he translated baptidzo as he interpreted it. The was unquestionably the best New Testament in use at the time” (p. 249).

In its day, however, it was under frequent attack outside the Stone-Campbell Movement. But in Campbell’s mind the KJV had “as a whole, it has outlived its day by at least one century.” Throughout the 1830s, Campbell continued to revise and improve his NT. To show the continued need for replacement he wrote a series of articles in 1835 under the heading “Mistranslations” Beginning with Genesis the Reformer takes on Gen 1.6 in the KJV: “And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.

The King’s Men followed the Latin Vulgate rather than the Hebrew, according to AC, giving rise to the mockery of skeptics. The Hebrew, rakeea, properly means “the expanse or space.” The rendering should be changed to “Let there be an expanse [or space or atmosphere] in the midst of the waters…” It it worth noting that the NIV reads, just as Campbell suggested, “Let there be an expanse between the waters.” Another passage, one that has become a traditional favorite in the Church of Christ debate tradition, Campbell criticized in the KJV is Gen 6.14: “make thee an ark of gopher wood.” This is not even a translation Campbell declared. It is simply the Hebrew term in English letters. The Hebrew gopher meant simply “cypress.” God told Noah to use a broad family of cypress tress. Again it is noteworthy that the NIV agrees with Campbell: “make yourself an ark of cypress wood.” Campbell carries his examination of “Mistranslations” on for sometime …

Campbell’s understanding of the nature of textual criticism and translation is illustrated in a variety of ways. In criticizing the KJV, for example, he notes that the King’s Men did not recognize the “special character” of NT Greek. Due to the LXX it has “the body of Greek but the soul of Hebrew.” Thus the 1611 translators often approached NT Greek as a Classical scholar would Homer or Plato. They are often “what might be literally correct” yet have “failed to give the meaning.” Campbell’s recognition of the Semitic dimension to the NT is remarkable for is time and that translation is more than simply word for word. But perhaps the most remarkable demonstration of his commitment is his relegation of the story of the woman caught in adultery (Jn 7.53-8.11) to a footnote. Daring indeed!

Campbell thought we should be more concerned with what the biblical writers actually said than traditional religious lingo.

The sacred regard for the phraseology of the old version arises from the superstitious reverence for things that are old; hence it is too often the case, I fear that the professed friend of the Volume of Truth looks upon it as a relic of authority, like some quaint old Anglo-Saxon or Anglo-Norman ballad, than as the living word of God, adapted to the moral and spiritual wants of the present age.

With Campbell spearheading the way, with courage and conviction, the Stoned-Campbell Movement pressed for a Bible in today’s English using the most accurate Hebrew and Greek texts around. James Challen (not Foy E. Wallace Jr nor Robert Taylor) captures well our heritage in this field in his speech delivered to the American Bible Union in 1852,

The Bible translated,’ is our motto, not the Bible in hid in the past, buried in the tomb of an obsolete and forgotten language, but the Bible trembling all over with the spirit of life; the Bible full of eyes before and behind, like the living creatures in the Apocalypse. And as the ocean reflects the image of the sky will all its brilliant jewelry, so, to a world shrouded in darkness, the lights of the spiritual firmament may be mirrored forth by true and faithful translations of the oracles of God.

Almost gives you the shivers …

Seeking Shalom,
Bobby V

10 Responses to “Campbell & The King James Version”

  1. mcgarveyice Says:

    Thanks, Bobby, for these insights. I appreciate your scholarship. Grace and peace to you. Mac

  2. Frank Bellizzi Says:

    Every living language is always changing. If a religious tradition insists on speaking language borrowed from many generations gone by, then you know that tradition is without life and power.

  3. Royce Ogle Says:

    The KJV is not a perfect translation by any means. Language changes as people change. However, the KJV has stood the test of time and still is very popular.

    I prefer the ESV for my use. I doubt though that 500 years from now the NIV or ESV will have the proven durability of the old standby, the KJV. After almost 500 years the KJV is likely the most used text in churches world wide in 2008.


  4. Stoogelover Says:

    Very interesting (earlier blog, too) history that I never knew. Thanks for sharing this.

  5. rich Says:

    would you please look at this one bobbie

    i like
    gal 2:16-21
    phil.3:9 and be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness11—a righteousness from God that is in fact12 based on Christ’s13 faithfulness.

    Instructions | Preface | Principles of Translation | Abbreviations List Bibliography
    Greek Alphabet | Hebrew Alphabet | Greek Manuscript Evidence | Download Fonts
    © 1996-2003 Biblical Studies Press

    Get your own copy of the NET Bible

    Do you want to download a searchable NET Bible to your computer? In Print Burgundy
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    For your Palm Pilot
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  6. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:


    Do you want to know how the Living Oracles renders those passages? I will assume that is what you are after. So here goes:

    Rom 3.21: “But now, a justification which is of God, without law, is exhibited, attested by the law and the prophets”

    Phil 3.9: “Yes, indeed, on this account, also, I count all things loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord …”

    Bobby V

  7. cwinwc Says:

    Thank you Bobby for sharing your insight into the KJV. The history you’re sharing reminds us of the danger of living in a vacumn devoid of history.

  8. justinworley.com Says:


    Thanks for these insights. I appreciate your scholarship.

  9. Dennis Says:

    I too am a descendant of the Stoned/Campbell movement. I became aware of Campbell’s Living Oracles only recently but haven’t looked at it yet. Have you any insights about how the word church in translated differently in the Living Oracles why the KJV used the word office in reference to the eldership?

  10. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Jan 3, 2010

    Dennis It is good to have you stop by blog. Make sure you check out my other posts on Campbell and the Living Oracles.

    Campbell generally renders ekklesia as “congregation” in the Living Oracles. Here are some good examples:

    “you are named Stone; and on this rock I will build my congregation” (Mt 16.18)

    “The congregations of Christ salute you” (Romans 16.16)

    “the congregation of God which is in Corinth” (1 Cor 1.2)


    As for why the KJV uses the word “office” is probably related to Bancrofts rules to the translators. The Catholic version of 1609 had already used the term “office” as had Tyndale.

    Bobby Valentine


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