What manuscripts did people use to create the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible and the King James Version (KJV)? Are the manuscripts used to fashion the NIV older than those used for the KJV? Are they the same manuscripts?

To elaborate more on my question; I basically am interested in knowing what manuscripts or ancient documents were used when authors were putting together the NIV Bible, and when are those documents dated to?

To follow on my elaboration above, the same question goes for the KJV Bible.

I'm thinking that the question of reliability of version(s) is irrelevant if one was fashioned by older documents than the other. Though I still find major problems with reading things like "thou houth shalteth" in the year 2016.

Thanks for your time.

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    Good question. Though it should be pointed out that age of manuscripts is not the only factor. Understanding of the language can also improve. Commented Aug 5, 2016 at 0:57
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    Short answer: NIV: all of them known at the time, KJV: all of them available in Europe at the time
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Aug 5, 2016 at 1:07
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    Consider asking on hermeneutics.stackexchange.com
    – user3961
    Commented Aug 5, 2016 at 7:53
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    This is not an exegesis question. It's a translation question. And it is possible to answer it objectively, regardless of any denominational differences in doctrine and interpretation. Perhaps it belongs on BH.SE instead of here, but it is not an example of a question that is problematic because unscoped. Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 19:28

3 Answers 3


Both versions use distinct sets of manuscripts for the Old Testament and New Testament.

One might say that the NIV uses an "older" Old Testament manuscript on occasion by deferring to the Septuagint or Dead Sea Scrolls (as explained below), but I am not sure this is significant. There are rumors that the King James translators may also have done likewise, even if forbidden by the translation rules the King had put in place (see, e.g., Adam Nicholson, The Making of the King James Bible).

In the case of the New Testament, whereas the King James editors seemed to have consulted a single 1598 manuscript compilation, the NIV, which relies on the so-called "Critical Text", probably included some "older" manuscripts in its translation. But it is very difficult to judge whether the underlying text is older or newer from the age of the manuscript. A newer manuscript may actually hold a copy of a variant that had somehow been lost, for example.

With regard to archaic English language, some prefer the King James Version because it preserves a difference between singular and plural forms which has now been lost to the English language, but present in the underlying Greek.

In Mexican Spanish, for example, one uses the word "tu" for you if speaking to a single person, and "Ustedes" if one is speaking to a group. This distinction has been lost in modern English (except, perhaps, in Texas, where "y'all" is used), but it was present in Jacobian English (i.e. "thou" for you singular, "ye" for you plural. There is a discussion of this here.

I try to set out the major differences between manuscripts below.

Old Testament


The Introduction provided in the 2011 New International Version states:

For the Old Testament the standard Hebrew text, the Masoretic Text as published in the latest edition of Biblia Hebraica, has been used throughout. The Masoretic Text tradition contains marginal notations that offer variant readings. These have sometimes been followed instead of the text itself. Because such instances involve variants within the Masoretic tradition, they have not been indicated in the textual notes. In a few cases, words in the basic consonantal text [the original Hebrew used no vowels] have been divided differently than in the Masoretic Text. Such cases are usually indicated in the textual footnotes. The Dead Sea Scrolls contain biblical texts that represent an earlier stage of the transmission of the Hebrew text. They have been consulted, as have been the Samaritan Pentateuch and the ancient scribal traditions concerning deliberate textual changes. The translators also consulted the more important early versions—the Greek Septuagint, Aquila, Symmachus and Theodotion, the Latin Vulgate, the Syriac Peshitta, the Aramaic Targums, and for the Psalms, the Juxta Hebraica of Jerome. Readings from these versions, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the scribal traditions were occasionally followed where the Masoretic Text seemed doubtful and where accepted principles of textual criticism showed that one or more of these textual witnesses appeared to provide the correct reading. In rare cases, the committee has emended the Hebrew text where it appears to have become corrupted at an even earlier stage of its transmission. These departures from the Masoretic Text are also indicated in the textual footnotes. Sometimes the vowel indicators (which are later additions to the basic consonantal text) found in the Masoretic Text did not, in the judgment of the committee, represent the correct vowels for the original text. Accordingly, some words have been read with a different set of vowels. These instances are usually not indicated in the footnotes.

The NIV Old Testament omits the so-called Deuterocanonical books that were included in the King James Version, as well as in other versions based on the Latin Vulgate (i.e. Douay-Rheims) and Septuagint (e.g. the 1851 English translation by Sir L.C.L. Brenton).


The original 1611 King James Version and subsequent updates published by Oxford and Cambridge in the ensuing centuries included the Deuterocanonical books, which were written in Aramaic and Greek. I have never seen anything identifying which particular manuscripts the translators consulted for these. As far as I know, only Cambridge continues to publish a version of the King James Version with the Deuterocanonical books included.

The underlying Hebrew text is supposed to be a version of the Masoretic Text compiled by the Tunisian Jew of Spanish origin and later Christian convert Jacob ben Hayyim ben Isaac Ibn Abonijah, published by Daniel Bomberg in Venice sometime around 1525 (Introduction to the Rabbinic Bible, tr. Christian Ginsburg, p. 2-7).

New Testament


Again, according to the Introduction in the 2011 NIV:

The Greek text used in translating the New Testament is an eclectic one, based on the latest editions of the Nestle-Aland/United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament. The committee has made its choices among the variant readings in accordance with widely accepted principles of New Testament textual criticism. Footnotes call attention to places where uncertainty remains.

The Greek New Testament the authors refer to is a compilation of hundreds of different Greek manuscripts. The editors essentially judged all of the variants available for each verse and made a decision as to which particular variant reading to select. Bruce Metzger has published separately a Textual Commentary that explains each decision made. The resulting text is sometimes referred to as the "Critical Text".


Dr. Maurice Robinson claims in the introduction to a modern edition of the 1550 Stephen's Textus Receptus that there are actually several extant Greek texts published around that time frame that are similarly named. He writes:

The Stephens 1550 edition of the so-called “Textus Receptus” (Received Text) reflects a general agreement with other early printed Greek texts also (erroneously) called by that name. These include editions such as that of Erasmus 1516, Beza 1598, and (the only one actually termed “Textus Receptus”) Elzevir 1633. Berry correctly notes that “In the main they are one and the same; and [any] of them may be referred to as the Textus Receptus” (Berry, p.ii).

All these early printed Greek New Testaments closely parallel the text of the English-language Authorized (or King James) Version of 1611, since that version was based closely upon Beza 1598, which differed little from its “Textus Receptus” predecessors. These early Greek “TR” editions generally reflect (but not completely) the “Byzantine Textform,” otherwise called the “Majority” or “Traditional” text, which predominated throughout the period of manual copying of Greek New Testament manuscripts.

Dr. Robinson also explains the key differences between the Critical Text (e.g. NIV) and the Textus Receptus (KJV):

The user should note that the Stephens 1550 TR edition does not agree with modern critical editions such as that published by the United Bible Societies or the various Nestle editions. These editions follow a predominantly “Alexandrian” Greek text, as opposed to the Byzantine Textform which generally underlies all TR editions. Note, however, that 85%+ of the text of ALL Greek New Testament editions is identical.

He also points out that the New King James Version (NKJV), published by Thomas Nelson, footnotes verses where the CT and TR variants diverge.


The NIV uses the Masoretic Text,(dates back to the tenth century AD) specifically Biblia Hebraica, which has been passed down from earlier texts that the Masoretes carefully copied. That was the guiding Hebrew text for the Old Testament They paid attention to both the kibbutz and the keres (kibbutz are marginal notes made by the Masoretes when there was a difference among texts.) In addition they also used the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Samaritan text, bot of which appear to be significantly older than our current massoretic texts.. As for the New Testament the NIV uses a conglomerate text, a text made from ancient sources that go back in times to the second century AD.

The KJV uses Textus Receptus, the Greek text that was prevalent when Stephanos printed it in the early sixteenth century. That printing was the first time chapter and verse numbers appeared. The Old Testament text is taken exclusively from the Masoretic text that you can get as Biblia Hebraica.

The King James Version, like the New King James Version, is a word by word translation.

The NIV is not word for word. The 1983 preface to the NIV sates, "...thought patterns and syntax differ from language to language, faithful communication of the meaning of the writers of the Bible demands frequent modifications in sentence structure..."

The current Revised Standard Version uses both the Masoretic text and the Septuagint (probably between 285-247 BC) for the Old Testament. For the New Testament it uses the Greek text produced by the United Bible Societies and is based on literally hundreds of texts dating back to the early second century. The Revised Standard Version is a "Line by line" translation.

This gets us to the all important point that how the translation is performed is just as important as which underlying texts of the Scriptures were translated.

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    The KJV is not a word for word translation in a great many places. Which is good, because word for word translations are unreadable! ;)
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Aug 28, 2016 at 0:59
  • There are two philosophies of translation: Word for word means the rough translation is just that, however, it still must get re-written a bit since the grammar and syntax of Greek and Hebrew are different from English.
    – Ed Rude
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 13:13
  • Word for word and line by line is used by those who want "Complete Equivalence" Dynamic Equivalence, however is the approach used by the NIV. In that approach words and phrases get paraphrase, supposedly to make them more understandable.
    – Ed Rude
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 13:41

I'm not much of an authority on the subject, but from what I've read, the KJV is based mostly on the Masoretic Text (there's a lengthy Wikipedia article on it if you're interested). More recent translations, such as the NIV, rely on a range of sources, including the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The KJV came out in 1611. That's why it has things like "thou houth shalteth" as you put it. It's simply the way regular people talked then. It has nothing to do with any special language in the original text.

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