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often gets in the way of understanding — more than other translations that miss things here & there — because of its outdated language.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 us. There 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.