Jamesian stew (4): KJV, AVB, & mold

I think we all know, deep down, that the KJV is as outmoded as it is inferior to most other translations.  Not that it gets everything wrong; no translation is that bad, and not one is above scrutiny, either.  Those who use the KJV exclusively may be holding on to something (denominational dogma? archaic wording? sentiment? some vague feeling of old “properness”?) that’s not worth holding on to . . . when we’re talking about God communicating to humankind, that is.

Like other people from various Christian and para-Christian contexts, I have a certain literary appreciation of the KJV, but am currently on a campaign against the churchgoing thought that it’s a good idea to use a KJV in this century — that is, for purposes other than literary analysis or historical curiosity.

In Biblical studies, I’m after 1) exegetically derived understanding before attempting 2) application, and the KJV often gets in the way of understanding — more than other translations that miss things here & there — because of its outdated language.  Moreover, the KJV is not blessed with the light shed by the archaeological uncoverings of recent centuries.  (The NKJV, despite some cosmetic updates and glints of current glamour, isn’t really any more illuminated.)

These days, anyone who uses the KJV exclusively probably needs a little instruction.  I sincerely hope to be an educator in this sphere.  Sibs everywhere:  we must stop holding on to a single English translation.  The “Authorized Version” is no more authorized than any other version, and its thin smokescreen is dissipating.

I found this YouTube of an ingenious, humorous song by a now-defunct iteration of the ACappella Vocal Band.  Some might call this an oldie-but-moldy, but I think it’s worth a re-listen. . . .


Some of the best lyrics:

Hard to understand . . . what the language means to me

Say, who is this man?  King James!

. . .

Back when it was brand new, the lingo, it was prime

. . .

[from the bridge]

If you’re tryin’ to tell me that’s it’s the only one,

That would mean Jehovah God would be an Englishman!!


Don’t miss the complete bridge in the song.  It’s entertaining and pointed, to boot (he noted ironically, with an intentionally regionally limited, outmoded, adverbial modifier).

Those who might tend to think that merely having a Bible on the shelf is a statement of belief, or “any Bible will do” if you carry it to church or hear a verse or two every now & then, wake up. 

We ought to be more interested in hearing, through scripture, the message of God instead of the word of usThere are obviously better, fresher versions available than the moldy KJV.  There is therefore no longer any reason to stumble over the old.  Choose a better version.  Choose life.  We ought to be more alive.  We’ve got to quit limping along with the KJV.

Some will say, “Well, the KJV is what I memorized from as a child.”  I get that.  And I have my own memorization issues.  I once memorized a fair amount, and what I recall from 1Peter, from Acts, from Colossians, from Romans, etc. (thanks largely to VBS at Cedars¹ and Sr. High Week at Camp Manatawny), happens to have been from the NIV.  It can be semi-comforting to hear NIV words I know already.  But I don’t really care much whether a new version messes with my memory or yours.  What we need less of is comfort.  What we need more of is vibrancy, vitality . . . and challenge.

Some three years ago, at the passing of 2011 (400 years since the KJV’s publication), I wrote a sort of memorial for the anniversary.  I’ll paste in the conclusion here, as a sort of obituary (not that I’m ordering a spiritual-mob hit, but I do know a guy). . . .

At this juncture, we must pay our respects and allow the KJV to pass with a dignity that matches the richness of some of its language. For poetically or aesthetically oriented purposes, or for sake of academic study of the literature of the 16th and 17th centuries, it is fine to use the KJV.

For the sake of understanding God’s messages in our day, it is no longer fine to give credence to the KJV.  We now have infinitely better scholarship to bring us more communicative, more accurate versions of what was originally scribed.  Today’s versions are not all worthy, but just about any one of them has a better chance, in 2011, of communicating something God wanted said than the KJV has.

Those old soldiers of the scriptures, the giving-away Gideons [who put the KJV Bibles in motels], need to learn this truth, and so do the rest of us.

Thank you, KJV, for shewing thyself unto humans who have sought the Almighty for lo, these scores of years.  Prithee, though, as 2011 flees, may thine arcane gists and thine obsolete phrasings take flight on wings of reason and spirit.  Thy stilted language no longer serves the purposes of the Kingdom of God.  We beseech thee, in good faith:  takest thou thy leave, with alacrity!

Good riddance, KJV.  May another, more worthy than thou, haste to take thy place.

¹ At Cedars, a tragic death occurred during my childhood — an electrocution of a father of four young children.  I still remember the KJV (there wasn’t much of a choice for pew Bibles in that time, although my parents carried ASV and RSV, respectively) Bibles that were purchased as a tribute to Ronald Keller and placed in the pew racks.  A feature of those KJV editions was a listing of “Words which have changed in meaning.”  Memory says the list was 5 or 6 pages long (not long enough!).  I don’t know whether any published KJVs carry such a list anymore, but they should.  At least then, people could cross-reference some words and get a little more light on their reading.  The word list should have grown a bit as the decades have passed.

Each generation ought to have at least one good, new translation of the scriptures.

5 thoughts on “Jamesian stew (4): KJV, AVB, & mold

  1. Steve 02/13/2015 / 11:12 am

    As my father grows older (82)–a man who committed massive amounts of scripture from the KJV to memory over his years in ministry (including entire books!), and as his memory has begun to fade, the now archaic but memorable stylistics of the “authorized version” seem to remain intact for him. And that is a blessing. I do recall, however, as a Baby Boomer–caught toward the twilight of the KJV demise and the prolific introduction of newer translations, my own reading was still done using the “official version”–and trying to do my Lord’s will but not being sure of how to exactly “mortify…evil concupisense” (Col 3:5) –especially when I didn’t have a clue what part of my body ‘concupisense’ addressed–was a bit frustrating, to say the least.

    My wife and I are 8 years apart. She grew up with the RSV. We have both of our early Bibles sitting on top of each other in our living room as symbols of our early stages in faith and as a reminder of the ever changing nature of how God speaks to new generations.

    Good article–loved the eulogy.


    • Brian Casey 02/13/2015 / 12:32 pm

      These are touching reminiscences. Thank you for them.

      Once or twice, I have actually thrown away a Bible — tattered, unused, paperback, no one would buy (or even take for free) at a yard sale, etc. To throw away a Bible is a weird decision! Its worth may not always be what it seems to be. Now, I’m re-thinking the notion of a Bible “sitting on a shelf.” You have found one good way to use your early Bibles. That is a good reminder for me.

      On to non-KJV-related things in the coming days….


  2. godschildrenorg 02/13/2015 / 3:38 pm

    By the time we were at Cedars, Dan was using the RSV. We also had an ASV. He bought a copy of all new translations to compare their version of the NT to his Greek NT. BTW, he preferred the Aramaic Greek NT…but where we were most of the time, not many could benefit from him reading aloud the Greek. So, he’d read it and translate in his mind…and tell people what was really being said. At one TX congregation (middle high brows), it clearly made some of the adults uneasy for Dan to give the exact wording from the Greek NT. I never did figure that one out.

    Yes, who WAS King James who authorized the KJV anyway??? Well, if history books that I’ve read are anywhere close to true…he was an angry Catholic who was determined to restore Catholicism to power in England…and to defend his “faith,” he tortured, beheaded those who stood firm in opposition to him. (You know all of this, but I just had to say it. I wonder if those who still say KJV is the only acceptable version know anything about this King James.) But, hey, Gov. Mrs. Hogg said, “King James Version was good enough for Jesus…!” I will admit that at times when I am resting, I listen to KJV on Biblegate.way.com/audio because of the literary beauty…and I know what most of those antique words mean because Dan helped me learn. I do not see the point in reading something that I have no idea what it means…so I find out the meaning of words. What God says is important to me…always has been.

    What God said was also important to Ron Keller. He studied with Dan and became an intentional follower of Jesus. Ron’s death happened after we were already back in Texas (to be nearer our aging parents). Do you remember that Dan preached Ron’s funeral? Cedars paid Dan’s ticket to fly back to honor and remember Ron. Cedars was good to us. It broke my heart to leave the area, but God had other plans for us…which now include EEM/Dirk Smith and others providing thousands of Bibles for God’s Children to distribute to Hungarians and Romanians. God’s circle is unending. ~~ Anne in St. George, Covasna County, Transylvania, Romania


    • Brian Casey 02/18/2015 / 7:20 pm

      Dear Anne, I’m sorry for taking so long to respond here. There are some pretty good reasons for the delay, but….

      I’m not surprised at all to hear you had the ASV and RSV back then. Just like my parents, actually! It was so good to hear about Ron’s being an intentional follower. Unfortunately, I don’t believe his namesake (2nd of his four) is in any sort of Christian standing, but his daughter Melanie is, at least. I’m in touch w/her. Yes, “God’s circle” is large and unending, and I’m glad you can see Dirk and other good ‘uns around the circle.

      I hadn’t heard many of those things about King James the man, actually — thanks for relaying. Maybe the lines were blurred a bit, but wasn’t he of the early (Anglican) Church of England, and not a Roman Catholic per se?

      You’re really not surprised that people were uncomfortable when Dan would refer to Greek directly in a class? I don’t think I’ve ever seen people be comfortable with that. Once in a class within recent years, I made some quick reference to Greek without belaboring anything, and the elder who was teaching snipped, “Well, we don’t have the Greek.” I said, “Yes, we do.” And that was about all there was to it. Sad, very sad.



Please share your thoughts. I read every comment.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.