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The King James Bible In The Modern World

I don't think any reasonable believer can deny that God has mightily used the King James version of the Bible. Yet this fact should not cause us to exaggerate the current practicality of this version. A few words:

1. The King James Bible we possess is not precisely the same as the 1611 edition. Over the years, updated versions have been produced. Indeed, I would guess that many a reader would have a difficult time comprehending some of the language of the original.

2. Thus, the history of the King James Bible itself seems to support the need for updated translations.

3. The King James version contains much archaic language. As such, it has become somewhat of a hindrance to the evangelistic/apologetic task. If it is our responsibility to communicate the gospel in clear terms, it would seem wise to avoid language which hinders that communication. I don't mean to imply that God can't or doesn't use the KJV. All I am saying is that it would perhaps be wiser to utilize modern terminology in our quest to proclaim the truth.

4. While I can surely understand the hesitancy of a person to change Bible versions, I do sincerely believe that we place a barrier before the world when we utilize the King James English. I realize, of course, that many, many believers have been raised on this translation. Yet it seems unnatural, to say the least, for a person to make a sudden language shift when he begins to speak of God. It has been my experience that such outdated language is a stumbling block to the people of this generation. And, frankly (personal preferences aside), I don't see the need to be bound by archaic forms.

5. As I have said, I can surely sympathize with those who just feel comfortable with the "old KJV." And if someone prefers this translation, who am I to stand in the way? At the same time, however, I do believe we have a responsibility as communicators of the Word to be as clear as possible. Indeed, the unwillingness of many to even consider a more modern version (and there certainly are a number of sound ones) is, in my view, a real weakness of the contemporary Church. Too often believers are simply reactionaries; too consistently we are as thick-headed and unnecessarily rigid as the world portrays us. I'm not suggesting some sort of theological compromise here. But it sure would be nice to see more Christians constructing their lives and ministries according to biblical pattern, rather than inflexible tradition. Of course, this is a subject all by itself. But regarding the translations issue, there are at least two factors to consider: (1) What does God say? and (2) How can we adequately express His will to others? The first question is simple: We learn about God through an acquaintance with His Word; any good translation (along with the numerous Bible helps available) can contribute to this knowledge base. The second question, though, requires an awareness of the world about us, and the people to whom we desire to teach the Scriptures. In other words, we must know the truth and the culture in which we seek to herald it.

If this is so, why have believers been so slow to make whatever changes contribute to useful communication? The answer, I believe, is that we are generally ignorant of the society in which we live. We hide ourselves in our safe, little worlds, all the while unaware of the people to whom we must share the gospel. Please forgive me if this sounds overly bleak. Thank God that there are exceptions, and that He uses us in spite of ourselves. Still, I do think that the unwillingness of some members of the modern Church to reevaluate the usefulness of the King James version is telling. Our first priority isn't beauty (though the KJV certainly possesses it) or tradition (helpful as this can sometimes be), but clarity of truth.

6. It is true that there are some advantages to a uniform version within the churches. On the other hand, this may not be possible in our day. And if we educate our congregations properly (I'm not talking about in-depth courses on textual criticism and the like, but common-sense explanations as to why we posses different versions), perhaps multiple translations may prove helpful. I know that I personally enjoy this approach (then again, I may be a weird exception). At any rate, we must do the best we can to helpfully deal with the reality of our current situation.

I close with two final points--one a request for understanding, the other for discernment. First, please don't misunderstand my intentions or my respect for those who use the KJV. As surely as I oppose a "King James only" view, I don't want to be guilty of an anti-KJV approach. That is, I'm not saying it is wrong to use this version. On the other hand, I am convinced that in many situations the KJV is an actual hindrance to the effective communication of the gospel. Though I realize some will (strongly) disagree with this position, my hope is that we all might seriously (re)consider our roles as envoys of the divine message. As we do, it may be helpful to ask which translations best suit this purpose. Whatever the specific details (and they may vary from person to person), may God enable us to communicate the never-changing message of Christ to an ever-changing world.

PS: "An after-thought for sensitive KJV advocates"

I know that some of you greatly treasure the KJV, and this is surely not wrong. Indeed, it is (obviously!) possible for a lover of the KJV to be a highly effective messenger of the gospel. For one, there are pockets of people out there who aren't taken back by the KJ language. Furthermore, many who use the KJV see evangelism as more than the repetition of Bible verses. In other words, King James advocates are just as capable as anyone of speaking to people in the language of our day. My points are general, and surely admit exceptions. Therefore, please receive them in the spirit of love which "BEARETH all things, BELIEVETH all things, HOPETH all things, ENDURETH all things." (:>)


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