This is a popular teaching that is supposed to really damage the cause of the King James Bible. Actually, it is a complete myth based on ignorance and supported by repetition of the same false facts over and over. I will give a short answer and refer you to a much longer one.
The argument goes that baptism was not an English word until the King James translators transliterated it into their Bible in 1611. They did this because King James made them do it. He made them do it to keep them from a correct translation into immersion, submersion, or dipping because these correct translations would go against the Church of England practice of sprinkling. Let me give brief answer to each of these.
- Was the word "baptize" introduced into the English language in 1611? Not at all. In fact, the word had been an English word for hundreds of years by the year 1611. The best demonstration of this is found in the Oxford English Dictionary. This dictionary is an encyclopedia of the English language. It is so thorough and so authoritative that no other language has anything comparable. In this dictionary, there are quotations from English works using the words baptize, baptism, and other forms of the word from the following dates: 1200, 1297, 1300, 1325, 1382. The word is used throughout the English Bible translation of Wycliffe completed in 1382. This means that the word baptize and its forms were English words long before the 1611 translation.
- But wasn't the word nothing more than a transliteration? No. To transliterate means to transfer a word from one language to another letter by letter, simply changing the letters of one language to the letters of another language. We see examples of this in modern bibles in their use of sheol and hades. However, a transliteration requires that the word is not a bonifide word in the language it is being transliterated into. This, as we have demonstrated, is not true for the word baptize and its cognates. Also, a transliteration requires the transfer to be made letter by letter. But if this had been done, baptize would have been baptizo and baptism would have been baptisma. This is not the case.
- Well, at least, didn't King James make the translators use baptize and baptism? As far as I can find, there is no evidence to this effect. The only "proof" I have seen of this conjecture is that one of the general rules of translation established at the beginning of the translation process stated, "The old ecclesiastical words to be kept, viz., the word church not to be translated congregation, etc." This could be interpreted to say that the word baptism should be retained. That is true. However, I know of no evidence that King James wrote the rules of translation. The translators may have written them. And, more important, there is no evidence that these rules were enforced or followed in cases where the translators thought them unnecessary. In fact, there is definite evidence to the contrary. It is true that King James preferred the ecclesiastical terms and it can be argued that this may have influenced the translators. But in the seven year process of translation, there is no evidence that King James had anything to do with the translation process itself. Great leaps of faith are required to teach that King James did not allow anything but baptism.
- And, did they not use baptism in order to support the sprinkling of babies? I have never seen any real evidence of this fact. On the contrary, I have seen evidence that the Church of England commonly immersed for baptism at the time of the King James translation. In fact, Martin Luther had stated that immersion was the ancient mode of baptism. Again, this conclusion is a lot of conjecture on a minimum of evidence. It is very difficult to judge motives 400 years after the fact without any real evidence. I recognize that my faith in the translation of the King James Bible leads me to believe that their motives were pure. But do those who oppose the King James Bible understand that they too are influenced by the prejudices they bring to the discussion?
If this is not enough detail, there are more involved studies of this subject. One I recommend is "Baptism in the King James Version" by Paul Kirkpatrick. This article can be purchased in tract form or read on the internet at www.tbaptist.com/aab/baptisminkjv.htm.