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KJ21: Initial Impression

By Gary F. Zeolla

In the e-mail exchange Correspondence on KJV vs. NKJV - Part Two passing reference was made to the 21st Century King James Version (KJ21). At that time I had only heard of the KJ21 but had not seen the version itself or much information on it.

Subsequent to our correspondence, Gregg, whom the correspondence was with, graciously sent me some information he found on the KJ21. The information consisted of an eleven page "KJ21 Comparative Word Study" along with the full text of the Gospel of Mark from the KJ21. Following is my initial impression of the KJ21 based on this information.

"KJ21 Comparative Word Study"

The "KJ21 Comparative Word Study" consists of some background information on the KJ21, followed by two verse comparison lists. In the first, the KJV is compared with the KJ21, in the second the KJ21 is compared with several modern-day versions, including the New King James Version (NKJV).

First, the "Word Study" states:
The 21st Century King James Version (KJ21) is an updating of the King James Version (KJV). It is not a new translation or a revision. Wording changes have been made cautiously, and while no attempt has been made to change or improve the timeless message and literary style of the King James Version, its readability has been greatly enhanced.

The "Word Study" then lists, "rules, conventions, and practices [that] are among the more important used in updating the wording of the KJV." Each of these will be commented on briefly.

1. Words which have become obsolete or archaic, and which are no longer understood by many literate readers, have been replaced by the most exact modern synonyms.

2. Where the meaning of words has changed over the period of almost 400 years, those words have been replaced by current equivalents.

These updates are appropriate and needed. Examples of such updates are given in the first list of verse comparisons. In most of these examples, the updates are generally the same as seen in the NKJV (i.e. Lev 19:35, "meteyard" to "measuring lengths").

3. Words such as "thou," "ye," "art," "hath," etc., although archaic, are readily understood and have been retained to preserve the traditional language of worship and prayer, and to distinguish singular from plural in the case of personal pronouns.

Along with retaining all the "thee’s" and "thou’s" of the KJV, the KJ21 also retains the "-eth" verb endings (i.e. "goeth" in 1Cor 9:7). I guess if someone enjoys this "Shakespeare" type of language they would consider this a plus. But personally, I find the use of such archaic word forms to be very awkward.

4. Many words found in the KJV, which contemporary translators have changed to conform to modern political and cultural biases, have been retained exactly as in the KJV.

5. No attempt has been made to conform Biblical language to recent secular trends—gender neutral language, for example.

For these two points, the discussion can get a little controversial, to say the least. I will simply say here that the rendering of the text needs to be based on the actual meaning of the original Hebrew or Greek words. If masculine language is used in the original, then it should be used in the translation. But if the original word is inclusive in its meaning, then an "inclusive" rendering is appropriate.

As for the second verse comparisons list, no appeal is made to the original languages. The verses are just quoted from the KJ21, followed by various modern-day versions. In each case, the KJ21 is, or course, declared to be the superior rendering. This declaration is based on the interpretation of the verse.

For instance, in Genesis 1:28, the KJ21, following the KJV, reads, "Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it…."

Most modern-day versions, including the NKJV, read "fill" rather than "replenish." The information sheet comments, "In the KJ21 the text focuses on mankind’s duty to restore to the earth what is being consumed, rather than merely to take possession of the earth."

However, it simply does not matter that "replenish" gives a "better" interpretation. What matters is what the Hebrew text says. In this case, the basic definition of the Hebrew word male' is "be full, fill" according to The New Brown - Driver - Briggs - Gesenius Hebrew and Greek Lexicon. The lexicon does not list "replenish" among its other possible definitions (pp. 569-570). So "fill" is the preferred rendering.

In regards to the second, list, the "Word Study" states, "In the examples that follow the KJ21 is either identical to, or substantially the same as, the KJV." But the NKJV differs from the KJ21 about half of the time. So the KJ21 appears to be closer to the KJV in its renderings than the NKJV.

However, what should matter is which is closer to the original languages. To determine this, a study of the original Hebrew and Greek would be needed to determine which rendering is to be preferred. Unfortunately, as indicated, the "Word Study" does not provide such a study.

The "Word Study" ends by declaring:
The 21st Century King James Version is markedly closer in language and spirit to the original King James Version than any other Bible copyrighted in the 20th century. It is an accurate and understandable updating which preserves the power, beauty, and timeless message of its historic predecessor. It is simply the most powerful and beautifully worded of all modern Bibles.

With the KJ21’s retention of the Elizabethan word forms of the KJV, the claim in the first sentence is probably true. But whether it is a more accurate rendering of the original languages is another question entirely. But it is this question that is most important.

The Gospel of Mark

Looking over the Gospel of Mark in the KJ21, as I suspected, I personally find it awkward to read. Along with the above mentioned "thee’s" and "thou’s" and "-eth" verb endings, it also uses such older English terms as: "forthwith" - "wilt" - "straightway" - "thence" - "ado" and "damsel."

For example, consider the following question and statement by Jesus, "Why make ye this ado and weep? The damsel is not dead, but sleepeth" (5:39) This is English; but not the kind of English that I speak. The only time I have ever used the word "ado" is in the Shakespearean phrase, "Much ado about nothin’." And I have heard of "a damsel in distress" but a damsel that sleepeth?

For comparison, the NKJV renders this passages, "Why make this commotion and weep? The child is not dead, but sleeping."

Moreover, the KJ21 is not consistent in updating words that have changed meaning. And it does not seem to update some of the inaccuracies of the KJV.

For example, Mark 1:34 reads in the KJ21, "And He healed many who were sick with divers diseases, and cast out many devils; and He suffered not the devils to speak, because they knew Him."

Compare the NKJV rendering, "Then He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew Him."

Note the use of the word "suffered" in the KJ21. Today, "suffer" means to experience pain. So the NKJV has "allow" here, which fits the context much better. Note also the word "divers." The only time I have ever used this word is in reference to people who jump headfirst into water. The NKJV’s "various" is much more understandable.

Lastly, note the word "devils" in the KJ21. The Greek word is daimonia and is better rendered "demons" as it is in the NKJV. The Greek word for "devil" is diabalos (Matt 4:1). There are many demons, but only one devil (diablos is always singular in Scripture when referring to the devil).

So the KJ21 seems not to have changed the wording of the KJV when it would have been prudent to do so. However, I am pleased that the KJ21 did not change a couple of aspects of the KJV. First off, the KJ21 appears to be based on the Textus Receptus that the KJV is based on. I believe this Greek text is truer to the original manuscripts than the "Critical Text" that other most modern-day translations use.

Also, the KJ21 follows the same "formal equivalence" translation principle of the KJV. This principle differs from the "dynamic equivalence" theory that most other modern-day versions use. I much prefer the "formal equivalence" principle. However, the above two points are also true for the NKJV.


My initial impression of the KJ21 is not very good. If you are going to "update" the KJV, then update the KJV. But the KJ21 seems to only go part of the way; it updates some of the language but leaves much, well, "dated."

The only people who would like the old-style English used in the KJ21 are die-hard KJV users. But die-hard KJV users would probably prefer to just stay with the KJV.

Meanwhile, people who are used to modern-day English, like myself, would probably find the KJ21 just about as hard to read as the KJV. So frankly, I don’t see much point in the KJ21.

This conclusion is especially pointed as there are alternatives. In addition to the NKJV, the Modern King James Version and The Literal Translation of the Bible provide "formal equivalence" translations of the Textus Receptus, but do so using modern-day English. So personally, I would prefer any one of these three versions over the KJ21. But the KJ21 could have value as a secondary version for comparison purposes.

For more information on the KJ21 contact: 21st Century King James Bible Publishers ~ Post Office Box 40 ~ 1111 North Coteau Street ~ Gary, SD 57237 ~ 1-800-225-5521.

KJ21: Initial Impressions. Copyright 1999 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.dtl.org).

Books and eBooks by Gary F. Zeolla, the Director of Darkness to Light

The above article was posted on this Web site November 1997.

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