Postwar Bible Translations: the New King James version


The years since the Second World War have seen a plethora of modern translations of the Bible. Arguably, none of these has a greater claim to be descended from William Tyndale, however, than the New King James Version (NKJV). The NKJV was first published in 1982 in the United States by Thomas Nelson Inc.. This was followed in the same year by a British usage edition, known as The Revised Authorised version (RAV) published by Samuel Bagster & Co. The latter has, I believe, been out of print for several years but the former is still freely available in both the USA and the UK.

The connection with Tyndale is that the NKJV is basically a revision of the King James (Authorised) Version (AV). The Dedication printed in the front of the RAV (but not in the editions of the NKJV that I have seen) states that there were well over 100 translators, drawn from most English speaking nations, and that they took seven years to complete the task. The rationale adopted is fully explained in the Preface which, incidentally, acknowledges Tyndale's work. The principal points explained in the Preface can be summarised as follows:

Purpose

The publishers aim has been to modernise the AV which has been held in such high esteem for 370 years. The translators, although translating afresh, have attempted to retain as much of the AV as possible yet rendering it comprehensible to a modern readership. The methods have followed those used for the AV (e.g. a panel of 100 translators). Paraphrasing has been avoided, thereby maintaining the integrity of the AV. The translators have also aimed to preserve the original precision, inherited from the 1611 translators (!).

Style

The style conforms to the thought flow of the AV and is as close to the traditional language of the AV as possible. The language has been modernised; archaic and obscure seventeenth century words have been replaced, e.g. 'thee' and 'thou' have been changed to 'you'. Grammar and spelling have also been modernised. The NKJV claims to be suitable for public reading.

Format

The NKJV follows the conventions of the AV very closely, including arranging the text in verses. However, there have been some concessions to a modern format, for example, subject headings rather than page headings, poetry constructed as contemporary verse and Old Testament quotations in italic type. (It should be noted, however, that some editions of the NKJV differ from the foregoing. e.g. they have page headings instead of subject headings.)

Text

The translators have used the same manuscripts as those used by the translators of the AV, i.e. the Masoretic Text for the Old Testament and the Received Text, or Textus Receptus, in the case of the New Testament.

The result is, in my opinion, something of a hybrid. most of the familiar phrases have been retained, albeit slightly modernised, but some have been changed. Arranging the text in verses rather than paragraphs, I find, detracts from reading the text as a continuous narrative. Apart from this, the NKJV is easy to understand and it does retain much of the dignity of the AV. For ease of reading however, in my private bible study, I admit to preferring an alternative modern version such as the New International Version or the Good News Bible. I have not heard the NKJV used for public worship so I cannot comment on its suitability for this purpose.

Having been translated from the older texts, the NKJV would appear to lack the benefits of later scholarship and is consequently less accurate than its contemporaries. However, the translators claim to have referred to these more recent textual discoveries and the RAV as published in Britain (but not the NKJV) has footnotes indicating where other manuscripts give different readings.

The NKJV is, no doubt, an attempt to provide a modern rendering for those many people who believe that the AV is the only true Bible and who wish to see the literature and beauty of the AV preserved but in an up-to-date form. Whether it succeeds in satisfying those people only they can decide. The following comparisons of four passages taken at random from Tyndale's New Testament of 1534, the AV and the NKJV may be of interest:

Matthew 6:28-29
Tyndale   And why care ye then for raiment? Behold the lilies of the field, how they grow. They labour not neither spin. And yet for all that I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his royalty was not arrayed like unto one of these.
AV28 And why take ye thought for raiment'? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin:
 29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
NKJV28 'So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin;
 29 'and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

 

John 8:12
Tyndale  Then spake Jesus again unto them saying: I am the light of the world. He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness: but shall have the light of life.
AV12 Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.
NKJV12 Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, 'I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.

 

Ephesians 5:15-17
Tyndale  Take heed therefore that ye walk circumspectly: not as fools: but as wise redeeming the time: for the days are evil. Wherefore, be ye not unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
AV15 See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise,
 16 Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
 17 Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.
NKJV15 See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise,
 16 redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
 17 Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

 

Hebrews 4:1-2
Tyndale  Let us fear therefore lest any of us forsaking the promise of entering into his rest, should seem to come behind. For unto us it was declared, as well as unto them. But it profited not them that they heard the word, because they which heard it, coupled it not with faith.
AV1 Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.
 2 For unto us was the the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not bring mixed with faith in them that heard it.
NKJV1 Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have come short of it.
 2 For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.

The examples quoted above leave little doubt as to the provenance of the NKJV. One wonders why it took over 100 translators seven years to achieve a result so similar to that achieved by a single man 450 years previously! A testimony indeed to Tyndale!

Colin Wolfe

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