When you ask 100 people to pull a Bible off their shelves, 55 of those people are going to pull down a King James Bible. Two of those people will be my husband and my father. It is the translation that I am going to hear from the pulpit of my church. It is beautiful, lyrical, and not quite as archaic as Shakespeare. Hearing thee/thy/thou as I read the scriptures just makes me feel more spiritual.
Yet, as I have become more and more involved in the study of the Bible, I find that I tend to pull out my ESV when I want to study deeply. It’s also the translation I use the most when I read the Bible to my children. Sometimes, when my children had difficulty understanding Paul’s phraseology as we studied 1 & 2 Corinthians last year, we even found ourselves pulling out an NLT because it was ten times more to understand for my ten year old than even our ESV. In the KJV, we found Corinthians to be indecipherable. (In fact, I first started using an ESV when I had difficulty understanding Amos and Isaiah in the KJV as an adult in a Bible study. I count on the Holy Spirit to give me wisdom and understanding, but finally decided that understanding the sentences was an important part of that!)
I also, not too long ago, attended a church that was KJV-Only in a way that was quite exclusionary. Part of the reason why I no longer go there is because I was uncomfortable with the KJV-Only atmosphere that made me feel like I was heretical for appreciating (and using) multiple translations. I still carry wounding from that and will not be speaking to it, but I truly admire the even-handed and charitable approach that Mark L. Ward, Jr. uses in his book, Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible, towards both KJV-Only people and those who would like to completely ditch the translation.
Ward is very respectful of both groups as he begins his book by considering the value of the King James translation, and he begins to spell out what we would lose if we abandoned the translation. Many of those losses make me sad. I didn’t realize how many things that I still love about the King James until I read what Ward had to say about it as a cultural touchstone and a unifying factor among Christians.
However, despite all the good things about the translation, people who read that translation (including me!!) often find that we don’t understand the words that we are reading. Ward has identified two areas where have a tendency to misunderstand the King James version. The first area is the area of “dead words.” These are words that are just archaic and out of use, like the word “besom” instead of “broom.” The other category is more insidious, and includes the “false friends” of words that we assume we know, but that the language has changed the meaning of over the last four hundred years. This could, of course, lead us to assume an entirely different meaning is behind a verse than what truly is behind the verse.
Another argument that I’ve heard used to support the King James Version is the argument that it is written as an easier reading level than the other translations. (That’s the one that always makes me feel stupid as I struggle through Isaiah.) Ward explains how the King James Bible’s low “grade level” score is something that is a little deceptive by explaining how those scales work and how sometimes books in foreign languages get lower scores than the King James, yet no one suggests that this means we should be able to read those books.
Then, Ward pulls out the best argument in his tool box as to why we should consider using other translations. He pulls out the translators’ preface to the King James to explain how their thoughts were that the King James should continue to be revised in accordance with language changes. He discusses how the New Testament itself wasn’t written in formal Greek but were written in the common, spoken language of the people. If God speaks to us in our language, why would we want a Bible that wasn’t written in our language?
Ward then goes through the ten common objections to using non-KJV translations, and this is a very helpful section of the book because so many of the objections that I have heard pastors and laymen make to use of non-KJV translations are considered. Some of those are valid objections, and others are objections we can dismiss. All of this information was helpful to me, and I valued highly this section of the book.
In the end, Ward has an opinion on which translation is the “best,” and because of this book, I am determined to make sure that I use them all. I don’t want to abandon the KJV, but I also want to make sure that I understand the Bible, and there are too many great translations out there not to make use of them all.