The battle over Bible translations is as hot as ever and if your priority is to win friends and influence people, then it is certainly a topic you want to avoid. This message is sure to offend especially since there are such strong convictions on both sides. If you’re the type that highlights emotion, tradition, or convenience over common sense and truth then you may want to stop reading now (don’t say I didn’t warn you). If only a few are enlightened by the information that follows then I would consider it a fair trade to endure the ire of those entrenched in this debate.
Let’s Get Ready to Rumble!
In one corner, weighing in at over 400 years, we have the narrow-minded “King James ONLY” mob. In the other corner, carrying a heaping hippy dose of love and acceptance are the empty-headed “Any Easy-to-Read Translation Will Do” crowd. These are, of course, inaccurate caricatures of those with deeply held beliefs on both sides but they are also an accurate characterization of how each side often views the other.
While mere mortals sully themselves in gullies parallel to one another, the truth is often careening down the road between them. Those who still cling to the “King James Only” dogma are becoming extinct as a generation arises defined by a society that equates the “best” with the “newest” or the “easiest.” In truth there is a ditch on both sides of the road.
The “King James Only” doctrine can be defined as the belief that the KJV (King James Version) is the ONLY inspired and accurate English translation. This dogma has been repudiated without much difficulty and the rise of the new, modern, and revised translations of the last century is, as we say, history. But have we done the right thing? In a greedy rush for approval and acceptance has our goal of streamlining God’s holy Word paid off? Has our effort to simplify scripture improved Biblical literacy in our society? The answer isn’t as black and white as we’d like.
KJV, NLT, NIV, L,M,N,O,P
How do the newer, more popular translations / interpretations of scripture like the NLT (New Living Translation) and the NIV (New International Version) stand up to the KJV?
This may shock you but I believe that there is a place for all well done translations and interpretations, even if there are some inaccuracies, so long as we understand those inaccuracies and know exactly what we’re reading. If you have kids you probably have fond memories of reading Bible stories to your young ones from some kind of Children’s Bible. I know I do. It’s fun to introduce our children to the Bible through bright pictures on thick cardboard pages.
When reading these children’s stories, have you ever known anyone to stand up and cry, “Heresy!” due to a bad translation in a Daniel in the Lion’s Den Coloring Book? Certainly not! Why? Because we know that what we’re reading isn’t meant to be that child’s primary source of Biblical knowledge for the rest of their lives. It is simply an aid to help them understand the story. We don’t throw out these books for being slightly inaccurate or for not mentioning certain verses.
In a similar fashion, I believe that the NIV and NLT have been great aids to help men and women understand the Bible better. I personally use them in my own studies and in my sermons from time to time. I say all of this so that you’ll understand that I am NOT in the “KJV Only” crowd. I would, however like to start a new faction in this debate called the, “KJV Primary” pack. The KJV Primary pack appreciates many translations (like the NIV or the NLT) but they also understand the superior nature of the KJV and therefore make it their primary translation. We’ve had many great translations arise throughout the years but the King James is still the gold standard.
1) The Missing Verses
For those who would argue for the superiority of the NIV or the NLT, I would encourage you to turn in your Bibles to John 5:4… Go ahead, I’ll give you some time… still looking? How about Acts 8:37 or Mark 11:26… having trouble? That’s because if you’re using the NIV or the NLT those verses have been omitted along with dozens of others. I know this may come as a shock to some, so if you need to take a break from reading this to breath into a paper bag, I understand.
“How could they do such a thing?” you might ask. The common response is that the translators of these versions didn’t believe that those verses should have been included in the Bible to begin with for reasons that are highly questionable. Secondly, the proponents of these versions say nothing major was deleted and that none of the omissions or changes are in any way crucial to the theme and doctrines of the Bible. The truth is that there are hundreds of verses that have been deleted or translated in a way that their entire meaning has changed. Does this mean we should cry, “Heresy!” and have an old-fashioned Fahrenheit 451 book burning party? Absolutely not!
I do not attribute these errors to some kind of evil conspiracy nor do I believe the NIV or NLT are entirely useless. I would recommend using these versions as an aid or an adult coloring book, if you will. These translations / interpretations can be a great blessing but why would anyone want to use, as their primary Bible, a book with missing verses?
2) The KJV Myth
“Why would anyone want to use a Bible with missing verses as their primary text?” Allow me to take a shot at answering my own question… because it’s easier to read! It’s amazing what we are willing to sacrifice for ease and simplicity.
The big myth of the KJV Bible is that it was good for its day but now we have no use for “thee, thou, thy, and thine” and that outdated language makes the Bible unnecessarily difficult to read and understand. We assume that’s how they talked back then but today we need something in our modern language. The reality is that this language was as far removed from those in the 1600s as the KJV is to us today.
It had been nearly 400 years since folks used “Ye, Thee, Thou, Thy, and Thine”. Why did the translators forgo the idea of writing in the modern vernacular of the day and step back into the dark ages to find this antiquated style of writing? Was it merely an attempt to sound poetic as some believe? Nay, and again I say, “Nay!” The translators of the KJV weren’t as concerned with beauty as they were with accuracy. They weren’t perfect but they were certainly inspired.
Why Dost Thou Talkest So Strange?
Today, many mock the KJV saying, “God doesn’t talk in thees and thous!” A little known fact about the modern English language is that it is the ONLY language that doesn’t identify singular or plural forms of “you.” The best you can do is say, “Hey, you over there!” and even with that we don’t know if you’re talking to the group or just one person. This has caused modern English to lose its exactness. In fact this is something we lost long before the KJV came along. However, the KJV translators revived the use of “Ye, Thee, Thou” and the like because of their precision and meticulousness. The original languages the Bible was translated from were so complex and beautiful that they make English look makeshift and rudimentary. The translators needed some help communicating this eternal truth with exactitude.
What does all of that mean? It means that, “ye,” “thou,” “thee,” and “thine” have a vital purpose that gets completely lost in modern translations.
Here’s a quick lesson; “Thou,” “Thee,” and “thine” communicates a singular “you”. “Ye,” “You,” and “Your” communicates a plural “you.”
A great example can be found in Isaiah 7:14 when this messianic prophecy was given, “Therefore the Lord himself shall give YOU a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
Some expositors, without an understanding of this “Ye” and “Thou” principal, have argued that the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 concerning a virgin birth was given to Isaiah personally and that the reference to the Messiah’s birth is only a secondary shadow. However, when you know that in the KJV “You” is plural then you can easily see how this was a prophecy given to the entire nation.
In Luke 22:31-32. “The Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have YOU, that he may sift YOU as wheat: but I have prayed for THEE, that THY faith fail not: and when THOU art converted, strengthen THY brethren.” Now you can see that Satan’s desire was to attack ALL of the disciples (“You”), but Jesus prayed for Peter specifically (“Thy” & “Thee”).
In John 3:7 we see another great example as to why this is important when Jesus is answering Nicodemus; “Marvel not that I said unto THEE, YE must be born again.” Other modern translations would miss that this truth was not just for Nicodemus but the KJV tells us, “Marvel not that I said unto THEE (Singular – Nicodemus), YE (Plural – the whole wide world) must be born again.
This may seem like nitpicking but when you’re dealing with hundreds of verses it can make a significant difference. Even the words that end with “est” or “st” show us when the text is referring to the second or the third person point of view. Believest thou this? All of the things that we seem to dislike about the KJV actually are what set it apart and add to its value as a translation.
3) “I Need An Interpreter!”
“But Pastor Alan, the KJV is so challenging to read!” Not really. I think most of the struggle we have comes from the expectation of difficulty. Christians from the sixteen hundreds all the way up into the twentieth century loved the KJV even though its language was as foreign to them as it is to us. They didn’t feel the need to make the Bible sound like your favorite magazine because… IT’S THE BIBLE!
Newer and easier isn’t always better, besides the KJV is actually only written on an 8th to 10th grade level according to one computer analysis made by Dr. Donald Waite. They also found that while Shakespeare used around 37,000 words in the English language, the KJV only uses 8,000. My son, who is 11 years of age at this writing, has been able to read and understand the KJV for some time now. What’s your excuse? (You were warned!)
Bring It Down To My Level
How about instead of suggesting that our preachers dumb down the Word of God, we demand that our members rise up to God’s standard? We really don’t need a new and easier to read translation; what we need is to renew our study of the exceptional ones we have.
We’re lowering educational standards and then praising higher test scores. If the average Christian is less committed or knowledgeable than they should be, it is the job of the Church to educate and empower them, not to keep them supplied with a steady stream of Christian coloring books. Let’s raise people up so that they can enjoy the Bible in its full richness using all of the good translations we have at our disposal.
In conclusion, until you become a Greek and Hebrew scholar, there are many great Bible translations out there and I would recommend that you get your hands on as many as you can. Study them and allow them to aid your walk with God but until a worthy challenger arises, keep the King James as your primary Bible and ask your preacher to do the same.