Those who clamor for modern versions often say that folks can’t understand the King James Version of the Bible. “We need to give them something they can understand.” Our greater problem is not that the English language has changed so much that people can’t understand it. The greater problem is that modern education is floundering. Should we dumb-down our Bibles or educate up our people?
On another level, the spiritual level, understanding the Bible is not just a question of education. This one book, this book designed by the Son and delivered by the Spirit, is not understood merely on the level of words and definitions, grammar and syntax, but is spiritually discerned. No matter how or when or by whom the Bible is translated, or in what words, we cannot “dumb it down” enough spiritually in order that the unspiritual can understand it.
The King James Bible has stood 400 years as a unifying bond among English speakers across time, region, culture and geography. It is the pinnacle of achievement first begun by John Wycliffe, passed on to William Tyndale and followed by others. It stands on the shoulders of the English translation work that preceded it. No other single translation before or since has so captured the loyalty of Christians generally. It has served as a bond in local churches where all read, study, discuss and debate one Bible. It has a proven track record.
In contrast, most modern English Bibles repudiate both the manuscript collation and language translation of our English forebears and strike out on their own. This trend can be traced to the late 1880s English Revised Version of the Bible. John William Burgon, Frederick Kenyon and others have documented a process whereby the revisionists rejected their trust of revising the Authorized (King James) Bible. The English Revision of 1881 began as an updating of the King James Bible and ended with a new Greek New Testament underlying a quite different English Bible. That rejection of prior and foundational English Bible translation work continues to the present.
Today no single version of the Bible has captured the loyalty of Christian people. We speak with many voices. No Bible binds us together. The anti-KJV crowd can only agree on not using the King James Bible, but not on what we should use. In their confusion they agree to recommend anything so long as it is not the King James! Why should I abandon a translation with the solid consensus of several centuries to strike out on my own with a new volume recommended by some person no more qualified than I to recommend it, who is not even sure if that is what he wants to recommend in the first place? Next week he may have a different opinion.
“But the silliness is that the two texts are not nearly as different as they are made to be. Different readings in a few areas, and a few are significant. But the differences affect no major doctrines, etc.” The editors at the Scripture 4 All Greek/Hebrew interlinear Bible software site write: "While scarcely a modern scholar defends the superiority of the Received Text, it should be pointed out that there is no substantial difference between it and the critical text. Their differences are merely technical, not doctrinal, for the variations are doctrinally inconsequential." Curiously, when all else fails, those rejecting use of the King James Bible revert to exalting the fact that, for all the minor differences, there are no major differences – no differences in the various Bibles that affect any important doctrine in the scriptures. They apparently intend to ease folks away from the KJV with this reassurance. Inadvertently, they admit that the KJV is sufficient for all matters of faith and practice.
Maybe I'm out of touch, but I think the average Christian, at least among conservatives, regardless of what he or she thinks about the various versions, generally considers that what he or she reads and studies is reliable as the word of God. I think we risk hurting them by extending diatribes over the unreliability of this or that version just because we don't prefer it. Let us use caution. The "Bible Wars" – KJV versus modern versions – usually flame up much more heat than light. Whether it is trashing the KJV or accusing modern translators of being Satan’s siblings, this approach does little or no good for the average Christian. I adjure you, whether you be a KJV-Only extremist or an anti-KJV elitist: tone down your rhetoric and consider your weaker brothers and sisters in Christ. To them it often sounds more like we are questioning the reliability of the Bible, any Bible, rather than standing for the faith. Attacks on the Bible rather than on extremist positions about the Bible can undermine people's faith in their Bible, whichever one they are using. Will we destroy our brothers, for whom Christ died? Perhaps we should turn down the volume, reduce the temperature and speak peace one to another.
Some of this debate has the feel of priestcraft. That is, the average church member needs to acquiesce to the recommendations and interpretations of the scholars. They know the languages, they know history of the development of the Bible, they know what is best. “Just listen to me and all will be well.” It seems to me, however, that the student needs to have the tools to understand what the preacher has the tools to teach. As Bereans let us search to see whether these things are so.
* Part One
* Part Two