I became a Christian when I was 16 and started attending a young men’s Bible study hosted by the youth pastor at his home in West Sacramento. After the first time, I realized that I needed to bring a Bible. This was the type of Bible study where they would ask the young men to read an assigned portion of scripture aloud and then the pastor would explain it and take questions.
I remembered that my parents had a Bible. It is one of the very few adult looking books we had in our home. It was a gift Bible in the King James Version, it was from my grandmother Elmira and the dedication page was written out to my parents – dated 1993. Despite being a cheap, black vinyl covered Bible it was in great shape and looked to be hardly used at all. I brought it to the next study and waited for my turn to read. I have no idea what we were reading, but as I began to read, confusion filled the faces of the young men in the room. The youth pastor stopped me a few verses in and handed me an open copy of his TNIV—opened to the same chapter/verse and I continued.
When I left the study that day, he handed me a paperback version of the TNIV and told me that this would be better for me. I used it. I read it and marked it up until the flimsy paper covers came off on both sides of the book. Then my Mom offered to buy me my own Bible, we went to the Christian Bookstore and I ended up with a copy of the New Living Translation. It is here that I really began to notice the differences in translations. Our Pastor switched to embracing the English Standard Version and he recommended the recently publish Reformation Study Bible with the English Standard Version (ESV).
I used this Bible for several years (despite its annoying size) and much of my formative Christian understanding of the Bible was in the ESV. As I moved out of this Church into the Presbyterian world, I collected different English translations and eventually landed in a Church that used the New King James Version. Something else happened at this time as well. I was now in a Church that didn’t expect that you would bring a Bible every Sunday. The readings were all printed in a service guide and you were encouraged to actively listen to the word being read.
In my Calvinist zeal, I decided to get a copy of the Tolle Lege Press edition of the 1599 Geneva Bible and started using it as my daily Bible. I was most interested in the margin notes, but the text also became my standard text. The history of the Geneva Bible is worthy of our attention, but what stood out to me was that this was a tool designed for families. Those familiar with the 1599 recognize that it is very similar to the King James.
And so I had returned to a traditional language Bible. As I started my own family I wanted to be intentional about translations and became disenchanted with the desire for modern language translations. Using a traditional language Bible has the advantage of helping you develop a common vocabulary and diction with the Christian theologians of the past four hundred years. Even more, as someone who wanted to contribute to theological discussions, the King James is nearly universally recognized as a faithful translation and the text would not get in the way of the conclusions I was attempting to draw from them. I was disappointed by the modern attempt to find a translation to make your point rather than drawing your point from the text itself.
As I came into the Anglican world, the King James represented an achievement for the Church and a significant piece of our Western English-speaking heritage. To my dismay, the modern Anglicans would rather have the NIV and the NRSV. I continued to use the King James and Geneva as interchangeable translations for my writing, study, the daily office, and so on.
This has, at times, earned me strange sideglances and half-hearted ridicule.
I am not a King James onlyist. Although I refuse to accept that every generation needs their own Bible in some corporate publisher’s version of “Newspeak.”
I recently read “The King James Defended” by Edward Hill. While Hill does not have an uncritical, perfectionist view of the Textus Receptus, he does admire the manuscript family and translation philosophy of our received text by the King James translators.
As a traditional Anglican, I use the King James with Apocrypha (which is how it was originally published) which Hill takes issue within this book. But according to the 39 Articles of Religion, the Apocrypha is to be read, “by the church for examples of life and instruction… ” This by itself omits many modern translations from our consideration.
Now, of course, every faithful expositor is constantly translating the Bible and cannot merely lean on the work of the KJV or modern translations either. I consider other readings and translations when I am preaching and teaching. I have a fondness for the Message as a Bible commentary, but would never replace my Bible with it.
Many have retained the King James because of the Westcott/Hort textual criticism controversy. If one is committed to the Textus Receptus, but likes modern English – the New King James is a faithful option. But if we are honest this is not the reason many people have abandoned this traditional translation, the modern reader merely dislikes the “archaic” language of the King James. In my mind, this sort of reasoning is childish. How is this attitude different than the high school student who complains about the difficulty of reading Shakespeare?
Unfortunately, I think it is this last comment that drives most corporate publishing and the church has joined the popular publishing world in a race to the bottom for Biblical literacy.
The other consideration is the context of worship. An Anglican parish that uses the traditional 1928 Prayerbook (or the Rite I of the 1979) would no doubt feel disjointed against readings from the TNIV or another modern language reading.
Also, In a world of countless translations, I think there is also value (although not recognized in many churches) in a standardized translation. Just this week, I was praying the Lord’s prayer with a fellow believer and we quickly fell out of sync, because the version he had been taught was so different.
What is often misunderstood about the KJV is that the English of the King James Version is not the English of the early 17th century and therefore doesn’t represent a contemporary English translation. A similar myth is perpetrated about the text of the Greek – which heavily depends on the linguistic history imported from the Septuagint.
I’m convinced that idiomatic translations have for this reason contributed to Bible illiteracy and cast doubt upon the reliability of the Bible as an inspired text.
How many times have I heard the unbeliever scoff, “God says? In which translation?”
The Bible is undeniably the most well preserved and reliable document of the ancient world – yet we undermine its authority with our selfish desire to be spoonfed.