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 about 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?