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Welcome to my blog, MB's Theological Thoughts. If you have a question you'd like me to answer, feel free to ask, either in a comment or an email. If it's a legitimate question, I'll do my best to answer it. Might take some thinking and some time, but again, I'll do my best.

04 February, 2011

My Thoughts Re: the King James Version

The King James Version. Many herald it as the only true and Divinely inspired English translation of the Bible, while others see it as antiquated. I myself find it as hard to read and understand as Chaucer, and I much prefer the Clear Word paraphrase, the New International Version, or the Contemporary English version. I still think it is viable, but I also see that changes in meaning and construction, as well as other vernacular idiosyncrasies, have made the KJV into what I believe is not the ideal Bible for today's English-speaking people.

Some Terminology
If I remember my classes correctly, a Version is a translation from the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek by a group. Similarly, a Translation is a translation from the original manuscripts by an individual. Lastly, a Paraphrase is a re-jiggering, for lack of a better term, of an existing English version such as the King James Version.

A lot of times, we ask, "Which version of the Bible do you use?" Sometimes in the response, we don't think of which Bible is which, and we seem to treat them all as equals. While all of them are Scripture, not all of them are directly translated from the original manuscripts. For instance, The Message and The Clear Word are both paraphrases. They are reconstructions of older English versions that feature more modern English. Many take these with a grain or two (or in the case of the Clear Word, several tablespoons) of salt. Many accuse paraphrases of being twisted to fit a particular denomination's doctrines and message. This may appear true in some cases, but it's often baseless conjecture and conspiracy theory. I see paraphrases as no greater or lesser than direct translations, for, as the Scriptures say, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works" (2Tim 3:16-17, KJV, emphasis mine).

Why the KJV is GOOD
The Authorized King James Version is the oldest commonly used English Bible, completed in 1611. Due to the Puritans' despair at a lack of good English translations (most of them had been translated from Jerome's Vulgate), King James commissioned this Bible for the Church of England. Almost fifty scholars took part in translating the Bible from the original languages, and painstaking care was taken that the translations were accurate.

The KJV was further edited in the 18th century, with its final edition being standardized and published in 1769. This is the version that we see today, wholly unchanged.

Why the KJV is BAD
As a publication of the Church of England, the KJV was translated, as ordered by King James, to conform to the ecclesiology of that denomination. The biggest criticism of the Clear Word is that Adventists have changed the wording of some texts to conform to their ecclesiology (despite the fact that the Clear Word is neither produced nor published by the GC, and that the GC does not endorse it specifically). This is a classic example of the pot calling the kettle black. To get the purest words of Scripture, one must go back to the original manuscripts, and not everybody is fluent in classic Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic.

Perversion concerns aside, the KJV is just plain hard to understand. Yes, you can take all the "thee"s, "thou"s and "thine"s and interpret them as "you"s and "your"s. But what may have been clear usage in the vernacular of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is confusing and obsolete in the vernacular of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. The whole point of translating the Bible into English, German, French, Spanish, Italian (and I can go on for years) was to give the people the Word of God in the vernacular language, not some high and mighty Latin (or Early Modern English) that requires a college degree and a dictionary to understand. For that reason alone, I think the Authorized King James Version, which reigned as the chief English Bible until the 1970s, is outdated and is more useful as a history book than something "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness".

About Other Versions
While, in my experience, many concerns about versions other than the KJV are unfounded, illogical and alarmist, many of them make me raise an eyebrow to certain versions. For instance, the Revised Standard Version could be used by those who don't believe the literal six-day creation week as outlined in the KJV. In the poem that makes up Genesis 1 and the first few verses of Genesis 2, the RSV refers to "evening and morning, one day" and then to "evening and morning, a second day", and so on and so forth. This seems to have been adjusted to conform to the theory that the days of Creation Week were not necessarily one after another, and could have been millions of years apart. (In my belief, that theory is a major cop-out to seem more conforming to "science" being lorded over us. In reality, we have no hard number for the age of the Earth, but a young Earth makes much more sense. More on this later.)

My favorite versions are the NKJV, which takes the text in the KJV and makes it a little bit more contemporary; the NIV, which is a new translation that is slightly easier to understand than the NKJV at times; and the CEV, which is even easier to understand than the NIV, yet is closer to the KJV than the Clear Word. Not once have I found in any of these translations anything that seems to contradict what is said in the KJV.

About the Clear Word in Particular: answering criticism
This page, an article from the Jehovah's Witnesses' Watchman Expositor, treats the Clear Word like a Bible put out by the GC. It is in reality the contrary: the CW is an interpretive paraphrase, a devotional exercise by Dr. Jack Blanco. It is not endorsed, not produced, and not published by any Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Similar to my embarkation on translating the Bible into Hra'anh, a language that I am in the process of creating for my science fiction stories, this takes an extant version, such as the KJV and records Dr. Blanco's interpretation. This alone answers for me any criticisms of the Clear Word paraphrase.

I love the Clear Word because it is Scripture. But I don't use it for my primary Bible; I much prefer the CEV or NKJV. I use the Clear Word for commentary's sake when I don't want to sift through the walls of information in the SDA Bible Commentaries or my NIV Study Bible, which has commentary in footnotes and countless cross-references in the margins. Yes, the accusation that the commentary is written into the text is true. But honestly, most of the condemnations are nothing but semantic arguments, which are some of the weakest arguments that aren't outright fallacious. And the others are countered by the CW's origins: an interpretive paraphrase by an individual and published through an Adventist publishing house.

In Conclusion
Never have I seen a Bible, KJV or otherwise, that preaches that the wicked will burn forever. Never have I seen a Bible that preaches the deprecation of Saturday Sabbath. All of these concerns about versions other than the KJV are baseless. And when I don't understand a text, I read it over several times, cross-check with multiple versions, and even dissect and diagram the sentences! The Bible is made to be understood by everybody, and English has changed so much in the last 300 years that it can be almost impossible to understand the KJV.

The position that the KJV is the only true English Bible is more a matter of taste than theology, especially since the KJV was translated carefully enough that it conformed to the ecclesiology of the Church of England. In that light, I would almost rather trust the NIV or CEV since both are new translations! Just as I use the Clear Word primarily for commentary purposes or pleasure reading, I use the KJV only when I want to have a look at the older translation. I own three physical Bibles, and none of them are KJV, which shows how often I use it. The bottom line is that I think this generation deserves a much clearer translation than this three hundred year old relic.

Your Brother in Christ,