My latest article for the Orange County Record
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Before moving to Orange I worked at a church in Lexington, Kentucky. One Sunday between our two services, a parent approached me. She had a son who was going into High School in the fall and she wanted to get him a Bible to mark this transition in his life. She had already been to a Christian bookstore and was overwhelmed and lost. She was about to give up when she came to me. She said, “I want to get a Bible for my son but I didn’t know what translation to get for him. What do you suggest, the King James Version?” I told her, “It is my belief that if we want Bible literate churches, I would stay away from the King James Version.”
The King James Version (KJV) of the Bible is one of the most used and purchased translations in the world. It made its entrance in the year 1611, seven years after King James VI proposed a new English translation of the Christian Bible. Ever since then, this particular translation has been used in thousands of churches worldwide.
For me, there are some issues with the King James Version. First it is over 400 years old. The world of Biblical scholarship has grown tremendously since the first printing of the KJV. Scholars have learned more about the ancient Hebrew/Greek language and older copies of the Bible have helped translators to try to find the most original and therefore most accurate source to translate from. One of the biggest discoveries in the modern era was the Dead Sea Scrolls. Before these scrolls were discovered the oldest known copy of the Old Testament was from around the 10th Century CE. In one single discovery, Biblical scholarship advanced from the 10th CE to the before the time of Jesus Christ. More modern translations of the Bible use these works to more accurately translate the holy texts.
Another hiccup of the King James Version is its language and use of translation style. The scriptures themselves are hard to read because of all the “thees,” “begats,” “spakes” and “thous” found heavily throughout the text. No one speaks Shakespearean English anymore (and neither did Jesus Christ); it is quite foreign for most Christians. Why do we expect followers of Christ especially new followers of Christ to learn an outdated language?
Some have claimed that the KJV is the only perfect translation; sadly there is no such thing. Never will the world ever have a perfect translation of the Bible. Ancient Hebrew/Greek is difficult to translate and has some words that mean different things in different contexts. In some translations of the Bible which contain translation footnotes there are many places that have the footnote, “Hebrew Uncertain.” After centuries of Hebrew and Bible scholars pouring over these holy texts, no suitable answer for some words are ever found. We are still working to try to sum up the story of God’s movement from the pages of scripture.
There are churches today that are exclusively King James Version only. I believe this severely limits the story of God. This tells me that God is not able to speak in any other way but through the words of a KJV Bible. It would be like traveling down a dark road using only a candle to see the world around you. But imagine the journey and what all you can see when we exchange our candle for a LED light bulb. Because we updated how we looked at the world, we saw so much more.
There are wonderful translations today that try to encapsulate the movement of God and make it more palatable for the modern ear (i.e.- 2011 NIV, 2011 Common English, NRSV). Not every person who hears a passage from the KJV will understand it or glean anything from it. Am I saying that if you grew up reading (or currently read) the King James Version that you are a heretic? Absolutely not. The goal here is try to find more modern translations to widen our understanding and expression of who God is and how God acts.
Most people will continue to read the King James Version because that is what they grew up with or are familiar with. However, if we want the church to seem relevant and current, then using a 400 year old translation is not going to help. The story of God must be told in a way that connects to people on different levels and from different walks of life. People want some connection between the printed page and the world around them.
If people don’t understand the Bible they are reading, then why read it in the first place?