Last time, we discussed the venerated King James Bible, its history, attributes, strengths, and flaws.  Some of its major drawbacks were addressed in 1982, through the updated New King James Version.

Specifically, the English was adapted to better suit a modern audience—this is easily the most notable feature of this Bible in comparison to the KJV, and it was done quite well.  Consider that the translators needed not only to make this Bible readable, but also to remain closely tied to the wording and syntax of the original KJV, for a reading audience used to, and expecting a similar experience to, the KJV.  At the same time, they needed to address mistakes, both of translation and textual basis, and adhere to a solid translation philosophy of their own.  That’s a pretty tough line to tread.

All things considered, they did a very good job.  It was a tall order, and they came through admirably.  In my experience, this translation is used mostly by people who simply haven’t considered the question of which translation to use, or those who are drawn by the tradition of the King James Version, but have trouble with the language.  The NKJV fills both of these rôles quite well.  It’s a perfectly respectable translation.  But it’s still not perfect.

The main flaw with the NKJV is the same as that of the KJV—its textual basis.  The Old Testament, to be fair, leaves little to be desired.  The NKJV OT is based on essentially the same Hebrew text as the KJV was.  The Hebrew apparatus hasn’t changed dramatically in all that time, even accounting for the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in the 20th century.  However, the best New Testament available now is (in my opinion) far better than it was in 1611!.  The NKJV is still based on the Textus Receptus, which was pretty much a necessity, since it was supposed to be an update of the KJV, and using an improved NT apparatus would have guaranteed notable differences—perhaps not hugely important ones, as we’ve discussed elsewhere—but those artifacts are what really separates the KJV from modern translations in the first place.

The translators tried to get around this problem by adding footnotes to point out divergences between the Textus Receptus and the Majority Text or the Nestle-Aland/United Bible Societies’ critical text, but this is far from a fix; it serves mostly to confuse readers, rather than helping them.  In any case, if the Textus Receptus is completely trustworthy, why not just stick to it?  And if it’s not, then why not embrace the modern editions of the Greek New Testament and leave the sentimental KJV aside entirely?  This lukewarm approach is unsatisfactory.

The New King James Version is still a good Bible.  But, as with its forebear, there are better options available to most of us.