Is It Okay to Use Bibles Besides the King James?

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TL;DR – Yes.

In a recent post, I created a synopsis activity about the Savior’s baptism based on the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). Some friends wondered why I did that, and even if it’s “okay” to use versions of the Bible besides the King James Version (KJV), especially given that the Church’s General Handbook clearly stats a preference for the KJV. Personally, I love the KJV, have used it throughout my life, and continue to do so.

At the same time, I’ve found that my understanding of many passages is expanded as I read alternate translations. I’m also extra-sensitive about the need to not be dogmatic about the KJV because of an unfortunate incident in which a new convert was publicly rebuked in church for using an alternate translation (this obviously should not have happened). But you probably don’t care a lot about what I think. You’re wondering, “What have church leaders said about the subject?”

Statements on Using / Creating Alternate Translations

The 2021 Church Handbook says, “When possible, members should use a preferred or Church-published edition of the Bible in Church classes and meetings. This helps maintain clarity in the discussion and consistent understanding of doctrine. Other editions of the Bible may be useful for personal or academic study.”

Elder John K. Carmack said, “We clearly prefer the King James Version of the New Testament, but we are not adamant about that. Any responsibly prepared version could be used and might be helpful to us.”

President Brigham Young taught, “If [the Bible] be translated incorrectly, and there is a scholar on the earth who professes to be a Christian, and he can translate it any better than King James’s translators did it, he is under obligation to do so, or the curse is upon him. If I understood Greek and Hebrew as some may profess to do, and I knew the Bible was not correctly translated, I should feel myself bound by the law of justice to the inhabitants of the earth to translate that which is incorrect and give it just as it was spoken anciently. Is that proper? Yes, I would be under obligation to do it” (Journal of Discourses 14:226-227).

Do General Authorities Use Alternate Translations?

My colleague Matthew Grey has noting instances across the years in which General Authorities have used alternate Bible translations. I’m including here the list he shared with me, with some additions:

Elder Neal A. Maxwell quoted Acts 20:29–30 from the New King James Version (Ensign, December 1986, p. 23)

Elder Neal A. Maxwell in General Conference quoted Colossians 1:17 from the Revised Standard Version (Ensign, May 1991, p. 90).

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland in General Conference quoted Philippians 3:12 from the New English Bible (Ensign, November 1994, p. 34).

Elder Robert D. Hales in General Conference quoted John 20:15–16,18 from the New International Version (Ensign, November 1997, p. 26).

Juan A. Uceda, “He Teaches Us to Put Off the Natural Man,” October 2010 General Conference (quotes Acts 3:14 from the New International Version)

Elder D. Todd Christofferson in a 2014 CES Devotional references an NIV Study Bible (October 2015 General Conference quoted Matthew 13:44 from the Revised Standard Version.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “In Praise of Those Who Save,” April 2016 General Conference (quotes James 2:13 from the English Standard Version)

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf in the October 2016 General Conference quoted Deuteronomy 1:11, 1 Corinthians 2:14, and Hebrews 11:1, 6 from the New International Version.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf in the April 2017 General Conference quoted the New English Translation of Philippians 2:3.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “A Yearning for Home,” October 2017 General Conference (quotes Isaiah 40:29 and Proverbs 24:16 from the New International Version)

Elder Dale G. Renlund posted on Facebook in 2017, “Recently I have been studying James 1:5. I have looked at various translations and definitions of specific words in various languages [shares insights he gained from the Greek text].”

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Missionary Work: Sharing What Is in Your Heart,” April 2019 General Conference (quotes 1 Peter 4:13 from the English Standard Version)

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf used the New International Version of James 1:5 in his 2019 BYU Devotional (footnote 16).

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf used the New King James Version of James 1:5 in his 2020 training for Mission Presidents.

In 2021 Elder Jeffrey R. Holland describes his use of the New Revised Standard Version in his personal study.

Other Official Church Publications and Alternate Translations

Other Ensign articles such as this one use alternate translations. The Ensign published a response to a question about the KJV with this response: “Is there any value then for the Latter-day Saint in using modern English translations? Although the Church prefers to continue with the KJV for its English-speaking members, we should not assume that the many other translations are not useful. They oftentimes explain passages that are difficult to understand. In cases of confusing phrases and archaic words, readers can quickly compare the verses with those in other translations. In addition, comparing many different translations will often expand one’s understanding of a particular verse.”
(Franklin S. Gonzalez, “I Have a Question,” Ensign, June 1987, 23–25 )

For Further Reading

Ben Spackman wrote a great article, published by BYU’s Religious Studies Center about alternate Bible translations.

Gaye Strathearn, Associate Professor of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University also wrote an excellent article providing additional context about alternate English translations.

Josh Sears’ article, “Study Bibles: An Introduction for Latter-day Saints” is also a valuable read.

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