Four hundred years after the completion of its first printing, the King James Version of the Bible is still commonly used and accepted as one of the most trustworthy English Bibles. Because of its widespread credibility, the King James Version has penetrated the English language to the point where scholars agree that it is one of the strongest influences on the development of the English Language (Crystal, 62); however, in more recent years, the King James Version is slowly becoming obsolete within the evangelical Christian culture. New translations are overtaking the King James Version's monopoly of Biblical authority because the newer versions are written in a form of English that is easier for the common man to understand. In addition, today's Biblical translators have both a better understanding of and an older source for the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts than the translators of the King James Version had in 1611 (Hamlin, 19).
With both the old and new translations coexisting, debate about which translation to accept as “correct” is prevalent. Theological differences often arise because of the variations in the words chosen for each translation. An example of this type of difference can be found in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, verse 29:11. At first glance, the King James Version appears to be saying that God has good “thoughts” towards the Israelites, yet the New International Version states that God has good “plans” for the Israelites. This word deviation could add to or detract from the debate of whether God has a plan for Christians and is actively orchestrating their lives or not. When comparing the New International Version's translation of Jeremiah 29:11 to the King James Version, the two may appear to be contradictory; however, upon digging deeper, we find that the two translations convey the same message about God's providence.
The New International Version
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Zondervan NIV Study Bible, 1188). In modern Christianity, the New International Version's translation of Jeremiah 29:11 is often quoted as a verse that reflects the good plans that God has for His followers. Christians frequently find hope in the belief that God has their life planned out for them and plans to give them “hope and a future.” In contrary to the belief—or maybe complementary to the belief—of free will, Christians accept the promise of God’s plans as an assurance that they don't have to worry when they go through hard times. One renowned Christian author, Leslie Ludy, writes about her own experience of surrendering her will to the plan that she believes God has for her:
I remember when God first challenged me to give up trying to write my own love story and allow Him to do with this area of my life exactly as He saw fit. I hesitatingly gave the "pen" of my love story to the Author of romance, worrying that I would end up with a bleak, drab, dismal, second-rate version of love as a result . . . . Now I laugh at my ridiculous fears. Jesus Christ takes very good care of the things we entrust to Him. The love story that He wrote for me was completely beyond anything I ever could have hoped for or imagined (Ludy, 34).
This passage from Ludy's book, Set-Apart Femininity, is a reflection of how Christians believe that God has good things in store for them. Bible verses like the New International Version's Jeremiah 29:11 can encourage this belief because of how it states that God has good plans for His people.
The King James Version
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end” (King James Version). In this translation of Jeremiah 29:11, the Lord is admitting good thoughts toward the Israelites. His thoughts for them are “of peace, and not of evil,” but they do not necessarily carry any providential weight. Whereas the New International Version speaks of specific “plans” for the Israelites, the King James Version uses the word “thoughts” and does not appear to support the theology of God having an active plan for His people. To look beyond this initial interpretation, English Baptist pastor and theologian John Gill (1697-1771) brings into perspective the usage of the word “thoughts” in Jeremiah 29:11 and how it applies to the Christian life:
these [thoughts] were within him, and known to him, and him only; they were remembered by him, and continued with him, as the "thoughts of his heart are to all generations"; and so would not fail of being performed; men think and forget what they have thoughts of, and so it comes to nothing; but thus it is not with God; he has taken up many thoughts in a way of love, grace, and mercy, concerning sinful men; about their election in Christ; a provision of all spiritual blessings for them; redemption and salvation by Christ; their effectual calling, adoption, and eternal life (Exposition of the Entire Bible, Jeremiah 29).
Gill breaks down this passage clearly by contrasting human thoughts with God's thoughts. Whereas the thoughts of humans are fleeting, the Christian view of God is that He is all-seeing, all-knowing, and all-powerful. God's thoughts would not fail to be carried out.
Gill's commentary is not merely a fluffing of the original text because the verse concludes by saying that God's thoughts for the Israelites will lead to “an expected end.” This end implies that the believer's life does in fact have a God-planned ending for them.
To the common reader skimming over these verses, the word choice alone could make the two translations appear to be contradictory. The substitution of “thoughts” for “plans” in the King James Version could cause a crisis of faith; the promise and assurance they had been relying upon could come crashing down. After a comparison of the New International Version to the King James Version, we find that the two translations convey the same message about God's plans for the Israelites.
In light of all this, why would Christians desire for God to have a plan for their lives—it seems to contradict the idea of free will. Renowned Christian author, C.S. Lewis, faced head-on the debate of free will versus God's plans for each person. In his book Mere Christianity, Lewis says that
free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having…. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they must be free (53).
As with the former excerpt by Leslie Ludy, the idea of surrendering to the will of God is not often viewed as a loss of free will within the Christian life but the choice of accepting God's plan over their own. Jeremiah 29:11 is a beautiful verse that speaks of the plans that God holds for His people, whether accepted from the King James Version or the New International Version.
Crystal, David. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. Cambridge University Press, 1995, 2003. Print.
Gill, John. Exposition of the Entire Bible. Book of Jeremiah. www.freegrace.net/gill/. Accessed 11/16/11. Print converted to Web.
Hamlin, Hannibal; Jones, Norman W. The King James Bible after 400 years: literary, linguistic, and cultural influences. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Print.
King James Version. www.biblegateway.com. Web.
Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. New York: Touchstone, 1996. Print.
Ludy, Leslie. Set-Apart Femininity. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2008. Print.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Zondervan Publishing Company, 2002. Print.