Hating the Bible?

I know. One shouldn’t hate the word of God. I don’t really hate the King James Version of the Bible. I hate what it represents. Before you skip to the comments section and vilify me for allegedly trash-talking the Word of God, hear me out.

We sat in church and I glanced around at my fellow congregants. Sixty percent had yet to reach their eighteenth year. Eighty percent had grown up in a home where the majority of language they heard throughout their childhood didn’t include English. Yet the pastor insisted on only using the King James Version of the Bible from the pulpit.. He even gave each new believer their own brand-new copy of a red-letter edition KJV.

The original authors of the Bible didn’t speak Shakespearean English. They didn’t even speak English—or Latin, for that matter. God used ordinary people to write out his love letter to us. Furthermore, the ones he chose wrote in the most accessible language of the day—common Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew.

They wrote using a language that the ordinary folks could understand. Think about it. How many of us speak Shakespeare as a Second Language? The average conversation at dinner would sound like this:

“Forsooth, who hast possession of the tubers?”

“Before thine eyes they layest.”

“Alack! My vision diminisheth as I advanceth in years.”

You get the picture. Back when King James of England commissioned the translation of the Bible from Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic everyone spoke like a Shakespearean actor.

The 47 scholars who worked on the translation had two important jobs. First, they needed to make sure that the Bible reflected the politics of the church hierarchy of the Church of England. Second, they endeavored to use ‘majestic’ language—which meant that they used loftier words than those that Shakespeare used.

Those facts give me pause for careful thought when I hear someone tout the KJV as the ‘best’ or ‘most accurate’ translation.

You Be the Judge

When I worked in a Christian bookstore, a customer came in and wanted to see the Bible section. When I led the gentleman to the back of the store and pointed out the different versions, he turned his gimlet eyes on me and proclaimed, “The King James Version is the ONLY version you should have in here!”

“Is that a fact?” I responded (my standard comeback when someone flummoxes me with a pronouncement).

“Yes.” He shook his pudgy finger in my face. “The KJV is the ONLY translation without mistakes. As the first English Bible, it is the ONLY one authorized by God. If you read anything else, you’re following heresy.”

It didn’t seem like the proper time to explain the process of Bible translations. Nor did I bother to enlighten the man about the first Bible printed in English (that honor goes to the Coverdale Bible, published in 1535). And I feared he might suffer from apoplexy if I informed him that the KJV had a few mistakes.

“The KJV translation is right there,” I murmured, before hurrying back to the front of the store.

The man’s ire left me deeply unsettled.

To Err is Human

Although the KJV is perhaps one of the most read versions of the Bible, it isn’t perfect. In the intervening four hundred years since its initial publication, we’ve learned an awful lot. For example, we now know more aboDoes your attitude about translation ruin God's love story for the masses? #BGBG2ut the ancient languages than we used to. We know that unicorns didn’t prance through the Bible—despite the original KJV translator’s error in translating a Latin word for ‘ox’ into ‘unicorn.’

We have erred in thinking that God can’t keep his own Word holy. He lovingly helps us understand our mistakes and urges us to continually seek perfection in our relationship with him, our understanding of his character, and our ability to let his love work through us to reach other people.

Does a sanctimonious attitude about translation ruin God’s love story for the masses? Why do Christians cling to customs tighter than a barnacle on a whale’s tail? If we don’t demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit, it doesn’t matter what translation we read.

I know a dear couple that faithfully carries their well-worn and much-loved KJV translations to church each week. And their lives epitomize the contents. Those words (despite their Shakespearean tone) have become manifest in the couple. They would never shake a condemning finger at someone.

I prefer The Message translation, or the NIV, but I love Bible apps such as You Version and Bible Gateway that allow me to look up a variety of translations without having to haul five Bibles to church each week.

It’s All About the Audience

So while I prefer not to wade through a long-dead king’s English to read God’s love letter to me, I don’t have a problem with others who do. I DO have a problem when advocates of one translation insist that everyone else understand the Bible in their favored version.

When preachers and teachers and lay people share the word in a variety of translations, they bring the gospel to everyone. I love it even more when those who preach and teach know their audience well enough to know which translation will most likely appeal to the congregation. Hint, if the people sitting in pews come from a variety of backgrounds, the KJV will probably appeal to the smallest number of people.Don’t we think God is big enough to stop a translation of the #Bible that he doesn’t like? #KJV #BGBG2 Click To Tweet

When a preacher insists on using the KJV, it’s like preaching the gospel in gibberish and wondering why no one comes to Jesus. Those listening feel humiliated that they can’t understand, but like all second language learners, they nod their head to show that they ‘get it.’

And yes, I understand that the Holy Spirit won’t let the word go out void (Isaiah 55:11—KJV). But if we want the whole world to know the gospel, shouldn’t we present it in the language they understand—whether it’s Cherokee, Navajo, Russian, Arabic, Greek, or English?

So, I confess, I don’t really hate the KJV. But it makes me profoundly sad when I see new believers toting around a copy of the Bible written in a language I know they don’t understand. It frustrates me to sit in church and hear the preacher read verse after verse in Shakespearean English while the congregants tune out.

Spread the word—but use words people understand.

Q4U: What’s your favorite version of the Bible and why?

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  1. I totally identify with that knee-jerk reaction against the attitude that says, “I’m right,” on an issue that is NOT black and white, and then proceeds to draw lines in the sand and to define righteousness by an arbitrary standard. For me, it’s an issue of practicality. I view the various translations as tools for explaining the truth to people, and I can actually remember as a teen having to go through the exercise of translating “thou” and “thee” to a herd of kids on blanket in someone’s backyard. Better to use that time explaining the love of God and the death of His Son and all that this means to us today.
    Michele Morin recently posted…February Musings — 2017My Profile

  2. Good morning, Anita! I so agree with you about translation and audience. I still use my RSV that was given to me by my 4th grade Sunday School teacher, and am most comfortable there. When blogging, Bible Gateway is an invaluable tool to convey the message I’m trying to share. Ultimately, the message belongs to the Lord, and I trust Him to translate to readers. Thanks for reminding us that the power is in God’s Word, not the translation.

  3. My husband and I talked about it last week. I guess it’s hard for long time Christians to make the change. But they don’t have to, just let others read what they want right? Clearly stated. Same goes with traditional hymns verses contemporary songs.

  4. Great points, here! The version of the Bible I read makes a huge difference sometimes, and sometimes not. More often, it does. I love the VOICE translation, and I love to put it parallel to the NIV. There are so many languages in the world, and I love how God speaks to each one of us so individually through different translations.
    Great post!
    Happy Monday!
    Megs recently posted…The Popcorn Button (#jammed daily devo, day 58)My Profile

  5. I never thought about it the way you described. That those God spoke through were common people using a common language and that the language of the King James Era was Shakespearean and anything but common for the “common” reader.

    I definitely disagree with churches who enforce “King James Only”. I think versions of the Bible are a very personal choice and what “works” for one doesn’t necessarily “work” for the other. Despite some of it’s “flaws”, I’m sure there are even those that are the most comfortable reading the King James.

    My personal preference is the New American Standard, although I am using an English Standard Version now and I like that as well. 🙂

  6. Wonderful thoughts about the versions. I grew up on KJV, probably because it was the “only” one at the time .
    I still love to memorize scripture from the KJV because it is so poetic. I find it easier. But probably because most of my memory work from childhood is spilling over and it keeps me from getting confused. Ha!
    As an adult I read from many versions. Like you said, I love how easy it is now to look at several versions. It’s eye opening and really brings scripture to life.
    Our church and my preacher husband most often use NIV. However, the NLT, New Living Translation is fast becoming a favorite. It’s excellent too. Many are finding it much more understandable… in today’s English.
    As a children minister, I started giving the NLT Bible to my students when the promoted into the teen department. They understood it better AND my husband was using it a lot from the pulpit so when they read along, they wouldn’t get lost.
    So glad that the word of God does not go out void and that we continue to translate it into words that people most understand.
    Thanks for these words of wisdom.

  7. I prefer the NIV, but I like reading the message when I’m trying to understand a passage of scripture that doesn’t make sense. I recently learned about the differences in versions and I understand what the difference between the message, NIV and other versions. They each have their purpose, but I agree that the KJV doesn’t help most people understand. 🙂
    Amanda recently posted…Running from who I amMy Profile

  8. Thank you! I’ve never understood the KJV Only crowd. And like you mentioned – it WASN’T the first English Bible. I don’t talk the KJV way, and I don’t want to read that way either. I DO want a correct translation as far as thought and words go, though. 🙂 Glad you linked this post up to Literacy Musing Mondays!
    Brandi Raae recently posted…Literacy Musing Mondays February 27-March 4My Profile

  9. I’ve always had a hard time understanding the KJV! The Message and the Bible apps you mentioned are some of my faves too. We use the New Revised Standard Version at church.

  10. Anita- my husband and I grew up in churches where we only used the NIV version. We were made to feel this was the only version to use. I actually felt a little shady when I ordered the NLT version a few years ago.
    I like what Rick Warren says, ” The best Bible translation is one that is translated into your life.”
    Isn’t that the truth? We all learn differently and God speaks to us in different ways, wouldn’t it make sense to use the translation where both happen easily?
    Julie recently posted…Have We All Turned into Jerks-What Happened to Love?My Profile

  11. I love everything about this post. Now, my fave translation…I love the Message, the NLT, the Amplified, the NKJV, and the NIV. I use them all. My favorite thing you said? “Don’t you think God would have stopped a translation He didn’t approve of?” Duh…don’t you think? xo
    Susan Shipe recently posted…And So It Begins…My Profile

  12. I love this Anita! For years I struggled with the KJV Bible – it was only about three years ago that I “discovered” (smile) other versions. For now I prefer the New King James or the New Living Translation – make reading the Bible so much easier.

  13. I love this post! Instead of soaking up the message, I use to get stuck in translating in my head the kjv (and that was pre -“I am sorry but I have chronic illness so lack understanding and patience..”). I use a few Bible apps. Favorite translation – I have many (TLB, NIV, Voice, NLT, AMP, NIRV, most E-Sword translations including NET, EasyEnglish, and MKJV – Modern KJV).

    I think we should focus on actually reading the Word and letting it impact our lives through God’s might, rather than argue translations. We have a hard enough time getting in the Word as it is, and then we want to add in the art of arguing NIV vs Paraphrased (so the Message or the Living Bible) vs KJV. Again, loved this post!

  14. Growing up, my Grandma lived with us and had most of the Bible memorized in KJV. I never understood it! I grew up with NIV, so it is probably my favorite, but I am reading through it this year in NASB. Love it all!
    Sarah recently posted…Steps to Lovely ThoughtsMy Profile

  15. My dad kept five translations in his home. He had an Amplified Bible. I remember finding all translations in the home marked to 2 Corinthians 5 the day He died. He witnessed to countless people and preached from all translations loving talking about the Greek and Hebrew meanings of words. I learned so much from him about the Bible. Thanks for sharing on the #LMMLinkup this week. Your post was our most clicked. 🙂
    Mary Hill recently posted…Sushi, Math, and Finding PurposeMy Profile

  16. What a wonderful article Anita! Just yesterday, a relatively new-in-the-faith gal came up to me after Bible class and asked if I could stay after to answer a few questions about a passage she didn’t understand. Turns out, she was carrying around an original translation KJV Bible that had been passed down in her family for generations – which is beautiful in terms of sentiment, but was doing nothing to help her dig into the word of God!

    This week, I’m presenting her with an NIV study bible which will help her to better understand what she is reading and showing her how to study God’s Word. Please pray that our time together will be fruitful.

    And, come share your article with us at our Inspire Me Monday and Friendship Friday parties – would love to get to know you better!

    (Connecting from LIteracy Musing Mondays)

    1. Thank :). I’m so glad that your new-in-the-faith friend has someone like you to mentor her and help her understand the Bible! I’ll definintely be praying for you both!

  17. I have begun falling in love with the Good News Translation ever since reading a copy of the GNT New Testament as of late that my mom had when she was a teenager. It’s definitely a great alternative to the NIV for easy-to-read translations. I am not happy about the current 2011 revision of the NIV using gender neutral language where it isn’t even there in the original languages, just because of political correctness. The publisher has made no plans to change it as of now. The NRSV uses gender-neutral only when it’s actually speaking of ‘man’ as in ‘mankind’ in the hebrew/greek. So, nothing to complain about there. I like the ESV for contemporary literal translations. It does for formal translation what the NIV does for the so-called ‘dynamic’ ones, which take some liberties to state more outright what’s merely implied in the original. Of course, that means there might be some personal interpretation injected into the text, and that’s why you need to have both a dynamic and formal translation side-by-side to compare. I recommend ESV or NASB for literal, and the NIV or GNT for dynamic, when having bibles of each type.

    1. I didn’t realize that the new NIV was gender neutral! Interesting. Great recommendations for dynamic and formal translations :).

      1. I want to follow up to my previous statement. After reading Strong’s Concordance, it is obvious that the gender neutral renderings in the 2011 NIV are no more inappropriate than the NRSV’s. My knowledge came from an ignorant blog called UnlockingFemininity (some anti-feminist blog by a group of Christian women) and concluded that their complaints were very poorly argued and embarrassingly bad. I went ahead and bought a pocket 2011 NIV to add to my beloved pocket bible collection, since my other NIVs aren’t in good shape or something other. But I do still commend the Good News translation.

  18. One more thing…in 1611, no one spoke Elizabethan English…it was chosen by the committee because it most closely aligned word-for-word with the Hebrew, and the Kline Greek. Even King James I, wondered why they chose the Middle English.

  19. I know this is a couple years old—but I have to comment! I absolutely DETEST the KJV translation and it’s why I never could stomach reading the Bible. I have a visceral negative reaction to olde English and possible the ego of King James. The Shakespearean English makes me angry just reading it 🤪. I am learning so much and feeling the Spirit reading my Joyce Meyer bible every day.

    And yes, my sister in law is a KJV only proponent and I just….can’t. Won’t.

  20. Is it really that hard to understand? I had problems with it at first, but as I continued to read and grow in my faith, everything started to make sense. Not just the dated English, but the ideas, which is what really matters. The problem with many new translations is they “twist” the scriptures. This is sketchy business, I have included an article I wrote on the KJV, in its defense.

  21. Hello Mrs. Ojeda

    I agree with you. Do you happen to know of another version of the bible that I can hunt down? I don’t want to use the KJV or the NKJV. The Vatican, I discovered today, uses something called the New American Bible. That does not set well with me either. So I’m trying to find something else. Any thoughts on this will be much appreciated!

    1. It’s all about preference–I love the New International Version, the New Life version, and the Message. I also use the Amplified Bible and the Blue Letter Bible (an app) when I’m trying to really dig into the meaning of a word or phrase.

  22. I wanted to know about Jesus Christ, and this Christian religion, so I started reading the King James Bible and gave up because of the awkward Elizabethan language in Leviticus. Then the Living Bible came out which I read completely through, and found the Lord in John 17, and accepted him as my Savior, it being much easier to understand. The new versions cannot be of the Devil as he does not want people saved. The King James version of today is a 1769 revision from the 1611 one. If the King James is infallible, why did they have to revise it? These KJOs are doing a great disservice to our Lord with their constant screaming about the new versions.

  23. Any Bible that is read without the inspiration of the Holy Spirit will be “Shakesperian”
    That is why we pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth… and avoid the opinions of men/women. It is sad to see how subtle Satan attacks the Word of God

  24. My response to anyone who extols the KJV as having some sort of superiority is to refer them to 1 Cor. 14:11 (preferably in a version written in plain modern English).

  25. I don’t like that i really like the KJV, because of how it’s been used to abuse people. But the language is interesting when the text is often boring. So it’s nice to have for those especially dull passages.

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Anita Ojeda

Anita Ojeda juggles writing with teaching high school English and history. When she's not lurking in odd places looking for rare birds, you can find her camping with her kids, adventuring with her husband or mountain biking with her students.

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