The New King James Bible

By Luther W. Martin

Brother Ralph R. Givens of Selma, California, recently suggested that I prepare an article for Truth Magazine, containing an evaluation of the New King James Bible (New Testament), published by Thomas Nelson, Inc., of Nashville, Tennessee.

The company of translators for this 1979 publication consisted of three groups of scholars, theologians and Bible students. Fifty persons composed the scholarly team that did the actual work of translating. They were from the United States, Canada, England, Scotland, New Zealand, and Australia. Each was committed to the belief that the Bible is an infallibly inspired book and signed a written statement to that effect.

There was an “Overview Committee” consisting of sixty-five persons, who pre-viewed the work of the translators as well as screening and refining the English wording selected, with a view toward grammatic accuracy, poetic beauty, and the semantics of communicating thoughts and ideas.

Finally, there was an “Executive Review Committee” of six persons (two of whom were among the fifty translators), who checked the suggestions and written comments received from numerous sources, resulting in a final English version.

New King James Bible Based Upon The Received Text

The original King James Version was completed in the year 1611 and was based upon the “Textus Receptus” (The Received Text). Sir Frederic G. Kenyon, wrote in his Textual Criticism of the New Testament:

Speaking very generally, it may be said that the manuscripts of the New Testament fall into two great classes, -those which support what is known as the Textus Receptus, and those which depart from it. The Textus Receptus is that type of text which, having been adopted in the earliest printed editions of the New Testament, has continued, with only slight modifications, to hold its own as the standard text in ordinary use. It is found in our ordinary editions of the Greek Testament, and in an English dress it is familiar to us as the Authorized Version; and it is supported by a vast numerical majority of manuscripts (pp. 58-59).

A school of thought in opposition to the Textus Receptus became manifest just a century ago (1881) in the conclusions of Westcott and Hort. Almost every English translation of the Bible since that date, has embraced the Westcott and Hort theory of textual criticism, with the result that a number of verses are deleted from the modern English versions. (See Truth Magazine, November 13, 1975, “The Genuineness. of Mark 16:9-20. “)

The New King James Bible is a refreshing effort toward restoring respect for the Received Text of the 16th century. This is not to blindly endorse the Received Text in the event that it does contain errors. But I do suggest that the Westcott and Hort Text contains far more erroneous renderings than does the Textus Receptus.

Goals of the New King James Translators

The translators of the NKJB sought to combine three ingredients: (a) The best knowledge of New Testament Greek, (b) Seventeenth Century English, and (c) Twentieth Century English. Their goal was to remove the archaic idioms and no-longer-used vocabulary. Additionally, they wanted to retain as much of the rhythm, beauty, and poetry of the 1611 version, as possible. The degree to which this announced goal has been reached can only be determined by studying the 1979 version. This writer is generally pleased with the New King James Bible (the Old Testament is presently being translated). However, there are a few passages that I would like to have seen changed (and, I believe, improved), when compared to the 1611 King James Version. I am thankful for the concerted effort that has been made toward getting back to the Received Text.

Questions Asked By Brother Givens

In the KJV (1611), Acts 2:40 reads, in part, “Save yourselves from this untoward generation.” But the NKJB (1979) reads “Be saved from this perverse generation.” In this comparison, we have the difference between “Active voice” and “Passive voice.” Concerning Acts 2:40, Parkhurst’s Lexicon, states: “So those who embraced the gospel, Acts 2:47, are called sozomenoi, those that were saved, that is, who followed Peter’s advice, ver. 40, and in this sense saved themselves by being baptized, and joining themselves to the believers.” It is to be. regretted that the 1979 version retreated from the 1611 rendering.

The Greek word actually used in Acts 2:40, that is translated “Save yourselves” in the KJV (1611), is sothete. It is found in most modern Greek texts as well as in my copy of the Greek Text of Carolus Hoole (London, 1653). J. Stegenga’s Analytical Lexicon, gives sothete, in Acts 2:40 as “passive” but renders it “Save (your)selves,” which is “active.” Most lexicons show the word as “passive,” yet several translators, like Weymouth, render it “actively” . . . “Escape from this perverse generation.” (Editor’s Note: the middle and passive forms of sozo [to save] are identical. One’s the6logy will probably determine which translation is given.)

Another Question Regarding “Active” and “Passive” Voices

Brother Givens points out that in the KJV (1611), the word strepho is rendered “be converted”; and the NKJB (1979) gives it as “are converted” . . . both of which allow the conclusion, that the sinner is “converted” without any action upon his part.

W.E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, states concerning strepho . . . “denotes (1) in the Active Voice, (a) to turn (something), Matt. 5:39; . . . (2) in the Passive Voice, (a) used reflexively, to turn oneself, e.g., Matt. 7:6; John 20:14, 16; . . .” (p. 161). Note, that in the Active Voice, strepho means to turn something; while in the Passive Voice, it means to turn oneself. Accordingly, the American Standard Version (1901) gives it: “Except ye turn, and become as little children . . .” Note that the “turning” is an action on the part of the sinner. This makes a vast and important difference as to the accurate rendering of strepho, in such passages as Matt. 18:3.


The New King James Bible (New Testament) has much to be appreciated, in the attempt to keep it as nearly like the original King James Version as practicable, yet overcoming some of the shortcomings of the 1611 version. However, I could look upon it with greater favor, if some of the renderings were less influenced by what I define as “Baptist theology.” Some 25 of the translators and Overview Committee were of the Baptist Denomination. This may have resulted in Baptist domination in the conclusions -cached. I do feel a debt of gratitude for the return of the Textus Receptus.

Truth Magazine XXIV: 18, pp. 293-294
May 1, 1980