The easy answer to the question is found in the The translators to the Readers. In the latter half they give some indication of their reasons for various readings; especially the need to put multiple alternate renderings in the margins. In fact there were more comments in the margins of the 1611 than there are the modern 1769 versions of the King James that those of us who use the King James have as the Bible we use.
Having said that there are some addition thoughts that are useful here.
Before looking at some points there is an excellent movie on Amazon that covers what I think is the greatest strength of the King James. It is called KJB - The Book That Changed the World. It was not produced from a religious perspective so it is actually quite objective in the assessment of the historical process that was involved in translating the King James.
KJB The Book That Changed the World The movie argues the Jing James is so good because the two sides (High Church versus Puritans) were put together to perform the work and neither side wanted to let the other side introduce their doctrines into the translation. This forced both sides to produce a literal translation, which is the greatest strength of the King James.
Here are a few thoughts from my past research on this issue:
- Unknown to most people is the fact that a very large percentage of the various renderings in the King James are actually based on the previous work of William Tyndale. The British Library site (which is England's version of a Library of Congress) has a site about the King James that puts the number of renderings that come from Tyndale as being 80%, and I have seen other works that put the number in the low 90s. King James Bible -- British Library
To that end they stated the following:
'Truly, we never thought, from the beginning ... that we should need to make a new translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one; but to make a good one better, or out of many good ones, one principal good one. King James Bible -- British Library
If one reads this quote carefully one notices some key points. Some of which are also made in the two sources listed above.
(1) Notice how their statement neither condemns nor praises any particular previous version. That is because they realized that among other things, their work was also a political statement. As the movie points out, the Geneva Bible was almost beloved by certain segments of the English Church in 1611. The Geneva Bible was an extensive study Bible, much like our modern study Bibles, filled with commentary to go with the Bible text. The English crown, namely James, hated the Geneva Bible because those notes were filled with comments that resisted the idea of the Divine right of Kings. The Divine right of Kings was the idea that the King was given a divine appointment to rule and therefore they could also make decisions affecting the Church. The authorized in the Authorized King James goes back to this idea of the Divine right of Kings. So those who make a big deal about the authorized are actually arguing that a King has a Divine right to rule over us, which in the United States has been soundly refuted by history.
(2) Their goal was to get rid of the many previous versions in favor of a single version that would be used by the English Speaking people. Very few had access to the "Great Bible" that Henry VIII had authorized years before. Large portions of the "Great Bible had been translated from the Latin Vulgate which also limited its accuracy. The high Church favored the Bishops Bible and in fact the original mandate given by James was to use the Bishops Bible as the "base text" for their work. The movie above refutes this last point arguing that the Bishops Bible was a bad translation and the Geneva Bible was a good translation filled with bad commentary (according to the King). Yet in the translators own statement it says that none of the older versions were bad, just that the King James was better. In a short paragraph in an article written in 1909, Kenyon also points out that the Bishops was in fact the base text for the King James. This and the Tyndale influence indicates that the King James is not a start from scratch Bible translation. For those who favor the Textus Receptus or the Majority Text it should also be noted that neither the Bishops Bible nor the King James are 100% based on the Textus Receptus. There are actually a large number of renderings that are based on multiple sources other than the Textus Receptus. Variations Between the Textus Receptus and the King James Bible Having said that, it is still important to recognize that it is still overwhelmingly based on the Greek text originally published by Erasmus, and then later modified slightly by Stephanus in 1550.
Here is a point the website made:
To put these variances into context remember there are 7,957 verses in the New Testament. This list of variances shows us that only 1.3% of all the verse in the New Testament are not supported by either of the two main Textus Receptus manuscripts and only 2.1% are not supported by the Beza 1598. In total 7,709 NT verse in the KJV agree with the major Textus Receptus readings.
Since the base text of King James was the Bishops Bible and the last revision of the Bishops Bible was done in 1602 it is possible that the translators also used the Greek text published by Beza in 1598. The latter seems less likely because in part the 1602 version actually reverted back in some cases to earlier versions not more recent ones.
(3) The comments listed above would also go against the idea that the King James is inspired or that it is perfect. Remember they said "to make a good one better, or out of many good ones, one principal good one." The King James translators never stated that their translation was perfect or inspired. In fact it was modified a number of times after 1611. In fact, it would almost be impossible to even use a 1611 copy of the King James since they are priceless in value. The 1769 revision did a couple of things, in the modern King James there are a number of italic texts added to the translation that are there to help make the transition from Greek and Hebrew into English. In the original 1611 version of the King James these were all in the margins as alternate renderings. The 1769 version moved them directly into the text. If you look at these italic renderings there are a few rare cases that it actually reads better and actually conveys the ideas better by not including the italicized text. If the King James was perfect or inspired then why the transitions almost 200 years later.
While some might view the last statement as an attack on the King James, I am actually a very ardent defender of the King James as an extraordinary translation of the original texts. Lest I also be called a Bible corrector for commenting that the King James is not inspired or perfect I would point out that I only preach from the King James and I would even call my church a King James Only church.
One point of Biblical exegesis is helpful here:
Did the original writers know that they were being carried along by the Holy Spirit as they wrote the books of the Bible? Phrased another way, did the Biblical writers know they were writing Scripture? If it can be shown that they were aware that they were being carried along then that would be a strong argument that the King James is not inspired. In other words if the Biblical writers who were inspired state that they were aware and the Jing James translators never said they were aware of being carried along then it seems very unlikely or impossible to argue that the King James is inspired or perfect.
There are a few New Testament passages that are useful here:
First in Jude:
3 Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.
Jude expressed the fact that he "gave all diligence" to write about one subject and instead found it "needful to write" on a completely different subject. The question is what caused him to so change his mind that the entire letter is about earnestly contending for the faith once delivered? The change was so drastic that it is all about defending the faith. While the text doesn't explain the cause it seems likely that it was the Holy Spirit who caused the change and by a compunction of the Holy Spirit he wrote on a whole new subject. Certainly it was the Holy Spirit who carried him along so that it was His intent that Jude write about defending the faith. The word "needful" here is the Greek word ἀνάγκη which carries with it the idea of absolute necessity. This too points to the Holy Spirit being behind the change and as a result Jude had seen the change and this is only possible if he is aware that the Holy Spirit wanted him to write on the subject. This indicates that Jude was aware when he was being used to write Scripture, i.e. he knew he was involved in the process of inspiration that resulted in the product--the inspired text.
Another passage is the key one where Paul acknowledges he is giving his own opinion:
1 Cor. 7:10, 12
10 And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband:
12 But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.
Bible scholars have debated for a very long time over the extent to which Paul was making his comments binding on the Church. That is not my point here (even though I fall on the side they are binding). My point is that Paul recognizes that there are commandments that come directly from the Lord and there are commandments that are his own opinion. It would seem unlikely that Paul is relying only on his past history with the Lord (the three years he was taught) and not on occasion relying on his awareness that the Holy Spirit was using him to write Scripture. The same argument can be made from 2 Cor. 10:10 where Paul acknowledges that some have recognized a substantial difference between the letters of Paul and the person of Paul. Paul doesn't refute the idea that his letters are "weightier." He just argues that his actions in person will match his words as they were written in his letters.
2 Peter 1:21
21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
Peter states that the Old Testament prophets spake not on the basis of their own will but they spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. This fits well with Jude's statement as not previously. This indicates the person is aware they are being carried along in writing Scripture because it is His will that they do so.
Finally 2 Peter 3:15-16
15 And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; 16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.
Note that Peter recognizes that at this very early date that Paul had been used by God to write the Scriptures. What makes it into the canon is not the councils of men. God puts a book in the canon because it is inspired and it is up to us to recognize that it is an inspired text. The greatest witness to this in the first century were those like Peter who saw those books for the first time.
How do these relate to the King James and whether it is inspired or perfect? The translators never acknowledge, even after the fact their work was inspired of God. Neither do they state that their work was perfect.
In their Translators to the readers, the translators acknowledge when speaking about the poor quality of the Septuagint speak of some ancient writers who called the work of the Septuagint translators as being prophets. Yet they speak as that being a false assessment. If they thought their work had been prophetic that would have been the perfect place to detail that fact--They do not. The translators also spoke of the wisdom contained in the Vulgate, indicating that it had some influence on their decisions (see above).
what about the point that to question the inspiration or the perfection of the King James will bring doubt on the word of God?
First the translators insist that it was important to have alternate translations in the margins. As I said earlier there were actually more marginal renderings in the 1611 then there are in the 1769 KJV. In fact, as will be seen from their own comments they argue that they couldn't be certain some cases as to the correct rendering from a series of choices. If God inspired the King James then it is irrational to suggest that God would suggest multiple renderings for a given text. Men alone, would do such a thing.
Here is what they state:
Some peradventure would have no variety of senses to be set in the margin, lest the authority of the Scriptures for deciding of controversies by that show of uncertainty, should somewhat be shaken. But we hold their judgment not to be so sound in this point.
Note very carefully: They admit that some might suggest that any marginal notes in the margins would cause the "the authority of the Scriptures for deciding of controversies" to be "somewhat shaken" by "that show of uncertainty" that was caused by the marginal notes. Notice their answer: "But we hold their judgment not to be sound on this point.
The reason for their point:
For though, whatsoever things are necessary are manifest, as S. Chrysostom saith, and as S. Augustine, In those things that are plainly set down in the Scriptures, all such matters are found that concern Faith, Hope, and Charity. Yet for all that it cannot be dissembled, that partly to exercise and whet our wits, partly to wean the curious from loathing of them for their every-where plainness, partly also to stir up our devotion to crave the assistance of God's spirit by prayer, and lastly, that we might be forward to seek aid of our brethren by conference, and never scorn those that be not in all respects so complete as they should be, being to seek in many things ourselves, it hath pleased God in his divine providence, here and there to scatter words and sentences of that difficulty and doubtfulness, not in doctrinal points that concern salvation, (for in such it hath been vouched that the Scriptures are plain) but in matters of less moment, that fearfulness would better beseem us than confidence, and if we will resolve, to resolve upon modesty with S. Augustine, (though not in this same case altogether, yet upon the same ground) Melius est dubitare de occultis, quam litigare de incertis, it is better to make doubt of those things which are secret, than to strive about those things that are uncertain.
There reason is that there are clear passages in the Bible that no one would debate the meaning or the translation of is obvious. Then they argue there are a number of passages that are so difficult to translate for the reasons they indicate that the marginal notes are essential because they couldn't be sure of the exact meaning of those passages. Inspiration is the process where the writer were carried along and the exact words that God intended are the result. If translation work is inspired then there would be absolute certainty as to the exact words that were selected for every single passage in the translation.
They go on in a critical point:
For as it is a fault of incredulity, to doubt of those things that are evident: so to determine of such things as the Spirit of God hath left (even in the judgment of the judicious) questionable, can be no less than presumption.
This is a hard sentence for us to parse in modern English. In an incredibly insightful response they state that it the "fault of incredulity to doubt of those things that are certain. That means it is a fault to question the meaning of such things that evident to nearly everyone (see how they define "evident"). Then they go on to suggest that to not question the exactness of some difficult passages which need multiple renderings can "be no less than presumption."
The translators also recognize that the pope Sixtus Quintus who was mockingly called called "Paul the Second" and that "Paul the second" claimed that the Latin Bible was "free from error by special privilege." I would infer that the pope was arguing for a perfect Latin translation. The translators equated stated this of that pope: "as the Dictators of Rome were made by law inviolable, it were another matter; then his word were an Oracle, his opinion a decision. Note the translators thought that for someone to translate a perfect translation is to make that translation an oracle from God, and that they were mockingly "Paul the Second." They are saying that Sixtus Quintus was like a Roman dictator because he claimed that his work was "free from error by special privilege." **
This leads to their conclusion:
Therefore as S. Augustine saith, that variety of Translations is profitable for the finding out of the sense of the Scriptures: so diversity of signification and sense in the margin, where the text is no so clear, must needs do good, yea, is necessary, as we are persuaded.
To keep any sort presumption of perfection or inspiration would require that God is the author of the multiple possible meanings. That is why the translators were correct to suggest that people who hold to that view "can be no less than presumption."
This shows that it was the King James Translators themselves who argued against the idea that their translation or any other translation was free from error or perfect.** I would rather side with the translators than with those who presume otherwise by their own ideas.