I don’t like the KJV. On a basic level I find it hard to understand, and I like to understand what I am reading. So when I arrived in India I was amazed to find how many evangelical (Pentecostal) Christians used it and were part of the “KJV only” camp – surely this is hard enough to understand for people who have spoken English as their first language, why o why impose it on those speaking it as their second language? Long have I admitted it served a great purpose in its day, God used it in amazing ways, but now it deserves a long, long sleep. Fortunately I am not alone in such thinking and at the end of the year in which the KJV celebrated its 400th anniversary, I was pleased to read – you might not agree with all of their reasoning but I think the thrust of the argument is good.
Today however, the understandability of a Bible translated in 1611 but not significantly updated since the late 1700′s is a questionable premise. For several reasons:
English is a fluid, changing language. In the words of the Cliff Richard song, “It’s so funny how we don’t talk like that anymore.” (I may have added a couple of words.) Furthermore, some words actually mean the opposite today of what they did then.
We now have better manuscripts. And verification from a greater number of fragments found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. And a whole lot of other documents that are contemporary to the time the Bible documents were written. So we know, for example that some KJV place names are really people names and vice versa. (John White’s The King James Only Controversy is must-reading on this subject.)
We have higher standards of translation and a better understanding of when to include something in the text and when to add it as a footnote or save it for a commentary. We also know — for sure — that Paul did not invoke the name of God in Romans 6:1. No other translation adopts the KJV “God forbid!” It is — to use a word that offends Bible translation purists — a paraphrase. A British colloquialism.
Perpetuating language written in a Shakespearean form somehow robs the Bible of its relevance to real people living real lives in the 21st century. Yes, it may be easier to memorize, and it sounds churchy, but it clearly has what linguist Eugene Nida calls “a high fog index.” Really, to cling to it in 2012 is no different than the attitude of Roman Catholics who perpetuated the Latin Mass. And it defies the spirit of William Tyndale, who the KJV translation team greatly revered.
There’s a guilty-by-association thing going on with the KJV-only crowd: The people who stand for the exclusivity of this particular text often tend to stand for other causes. I wouldn’t necessarily associate them people who picket soldier’s funerals, or the people who burn the Koran, or the people who wildly predict dates for the world to end. No, I’d leave that for you to connect the dots. Heck, even the King James Bible translators weren’t KJV-only.