Wednesday, March 07, 2018

An “Authorized” Book Review

Book Review of Authorized by Mark Ward

Authorized: the Use and Misuse of the King James Bible. Mark L. Ward, Jr. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018. $12.99, 168 pages. ISBN 9781683590552. This book is available in digital or paperback from Amazon, Lexham Press and others. Mark L. Ward, Jr. received his PhD in New Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University in 2012. He is the author of multiple high school Bible textbooks for BJU Press, and now serves as a Logos Pro[i] for Faithlife. In addition to Authorized, he is co-author (with Tom Breeden) of Can I Smoke Pot?: Marijuana in Light of Scripture. He blogs at By Faith We Understand.

Just out in late January 2018, Authorized: the Use and Misuse of the King James Bible by Mark Ward comes highly recommended. It says so right on the front cover! The book has garnered a very impressive array of endorsements. In addition to D. A. Carson on the cover, there are Kevin Bauder, John Frame, John McWhorter, Mark Minnick, Tom Schreiner, and Mark Strauss. Surely a book with these recommendations is worth reading, whether one agrees or disagrees with the premise.

I intended to excoriate the book and its author – just ‘cause – but the author is immensely likable and even made a few good points! On a more serious note, Mark Ward’s Authorized is short, well-written, and engaging. It is long enough to make and sustain its points, yet short enough that the reader doesn’t feel the needle. (Authorized would be almost as easy to read as the NIrV if it weren’t for all the King James jargon he included in the text!)


The book divides into 9 parts – an introduction, seven chapters, and an epilogue. In his introduction Ward gives a quick overview of the King James Bible, Bible translation, the trend away from the KJV,[ii] and the burning question in the minds of many – “what do we do with the KJV?” Chapter 1 demonstrates Ward’s view of the KJV, of which he speaks respectfully and never disparages as a poor translation. Here he acknowledges and laments five things we lose as Christians move away from the King James Bible.[iii]

In chapter 2 Ward presents a weighty reason to move away from the KJV – trying to share the gospel only to meet the objection, “I can’t understand this language.”  This will play better in Peoria than in Predestinarianville. (I suspect that the author perceives the majority of his audience as Peorians.) I find this perspective interesting in light of this – most of the more laborious “soul-winners” that I know are IFB near-rabid KJV-Onlyists! The KJV doesn’t seem to hinder them. Moving into the heart of the book, Ward deals with dead words,[iv] false friends,[v] reading levels,[vi] and “the value of the vernacular.”[vii] At heart of Ward’s writing, his discussion is never about whether the KJV is a bad translation. It is always about the vernacular – what modern people speak and understand. He roots his case in certain biblical examples – the Great Commission, Nehemiah 8:8, 1 Corinthians 14 and within-the-text translations of “not-so-very-old, or merely foreign, words.”[viii] He makes one point with which it is hard to argue – you don’t know what you don’t know!

After establishing the need of a Bible in the current tongue of the people, Ward answers ten objections to using new Bibles in the vernacular in place of the KJV. The objections are not concocted strawmen. The author engages objections from Joel Beeke to the Trinitarian Bible Society.[ix] He follows this with chapter 7 – “Which Bible Translation is Best?” As you might expect, his answer is not the King James Bible. But his answer is not as you might expect. According to Ward, picking a “best” translation is a faulty idea. He argues “that the major evangelical English Bible translations are both usefully different” and “substantially similar.” The value placed on the vernacular ultimately means to choose any version other than the KJV for preaching, evangelism, and discipleship.

Ward’s epilogue contains a call to action – buy and read a new translation you’ve never read before.[x] Take advantage of comparative study Bibles and Bible software.

Three Quibbles

No index. An index would be nice for reviewing parts of the book after the fact. The endnotes are good, just in the wrong place. Those of us who actually read them love to have them at the foot of the page. On pages 77 and 78 the “heat maps” of Luke 14 in the KJV and ESV are too small and obscure to be functional. These old eyes could hardly make heads or tails of them.


Mark Ward falls nowhere within the “KJVO” spectrum, but in his writing reveals a respect not found among many who promote moving to new Bible versions, and sometimes not found among certain KJVOs and KJVPs.[xi] I found this approach refreshing, and better for the blood pressure. My recommendation of Authorized is a qualified yes. Yes, because the book is well-written, a clear and reasonable presentation of the rationale to move from King James to a modern translation. Qualified, because my recommendation does not convey agreement with the premise. My reading of this type book is not extensive, but does include Carson and White. I rank Ward’s book higher.

A challenge is good. I recommend the challenge. With the recommendation comes this advice:

  • If you are KJVO to the max, on steroids (e.g. Hylesite, Ruckmanite), read the book. It won’t hurt you, and might provide some anti-biotic for what ails ya’.
  • If you are KJVO regular, read the book. We need to be conversant in the arguments put forward for modern versions versus the King James Bible. It will sharpen your mind.
  • If you are KJV-lite, before reading, take several doses of vitamins K, J, and B. Read Dean Burgon, David Otis Fuller, and writings about the King James Bible on my blog. After reading Ward’s book, follow up with several more doses of vitamins K, J, and B. If you’re too “lite,” go on a diet – just don’t read the book – or if you don’t take my advice, then don’t let the door hit you on the backside on your way out.
  • If you are anti-KJV, read the book. Ward’s respectful tone towards the KJV is an antidote you need for your bad attitude.

[i] Which is outside my field of knowledge, but must have something to do with Logos Bible Software.
[ii] I use the name “King James Bible,” but when abbreviating use the more common and better-known initialism KJV (King James Version).
[iii] Here Ward does not go into issues such as underlying texts or faithful translation, but, for example, in losing the KJV “We lose Scripture memory by osmosis.”
[iv] Words no longer in common use.
[v] A “false friend” is a word in one language that looks or sounds similar one in another language and is wrongly assumed to have the same meaning. Loosely, to Ward, it is a word that you expect to mean something that it doesn’t. I have previously complained about his “false friends” HERE. Nevertheless, KJV readers should be diligent to ferret out words we don’t know, and even ones we think we do. The anti-KJV crowd are often fooled by so-called false friends as well, often complaining about mistranslations in the KJV when it is they who misunderstand the meanings of the words.
[vi] I am in general agreement with Ward concerning readability tests, which I have written about HERE and HERE. I find “which Bible does the computer say is easier to read” to be a waste of time argument. In Flesch-Kincaid results, foreign languages, I point out that the Flesch-Kincaid can read any language easily, and proves little about human ability to read any given material tested.
[vii] By which the author means the everyday language spoken by people. My wry sense of humor is here delighted by the use of a word that is probably not commonly used by many modern Americans. In my imagination I view them either passing over it, or looking it up in the dictionary. How fitting the topic!
[viii] For example, Mark 5:41, “And he took the damsel by the hand, and said unto her, Talitha cumi; which is, being interpreted, Damsel, I say unto thee, arise.” In my view, such an example does not prove – and may even contradict – Ward’s conclusion. Rather than an example of the “translator” (i.e., writer) putting words in easy vernacular, which is what is advocated, this shows the writer using a word the readers might not understand and then explaining it!
[ix] Ward’s attention to the T-V distinction becomes somewhat of a distraction. The tu/vous informal/formal distinction is not the same as the thou/ye distinction in the KJV, which is a singular/plural distinction. The argument that this singular/plural distinction is only an odd occasional help has sent me on a mining expedition that I will hope to share with my readers in the future. (Within a couple of hours, I had listed a couple dozen incidents.)
[x] He proposes seven possibilities – CSB, ESV, LEB, NASB, NET, NIV, and NLT.
[xi] A list of various positions taken toward the King James Bible may be found HERE.

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