(Photo: Psalm 23 in the original 1611 edition of the King James Version.)
Copyright by Bob Rogers.
I love the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. It is written in beautiful, literary English. Psalm 23 and many other familiar passages resonate in the KJV. However, I usually do not use the KJV when I preach and teach. Why is that? There are two main reasons.
- The English language has changed over the centuries. Many words that were clear when the KJV was written, are now confusing or offensive to the modern reader, simply because modern English is a different dialect. For example, the KJV uses the word “unicorn” nine times (Numbers 23:22; 24:8; Deuteronomy 33:17; Job 39:9-10; Psalms 22:21; 29:6; 92:10; Isaiah 34:7). Skeptics have made fun of the Bible because of this; however, hundreds of years ago “unicorn” used to mean an animal with one horn, like a rhinoceros. Over time, the word came to refer to a mythical animal, so modern translations use other terms, such as “wild ox.” Exodus 28:40 says to make “girdles and bonnets” for the priests (referring to sashes and headbands), 2 Kings 18:27 refers to men who “drink their own piss;” James 2:3 refers to “gay clothing” (referring to fine clothes), 2 Corinthians 6:12 says, “ye are straitened in your bowels (referring to holding back affection), and Philippians 3:20 says “our conversation is in heaven” because “conversation” meant way of life in Middle English, but today the word means speech, and thus would be completely misunderstood. I could go on and on, but you get the idea.
- The KJV is not based on the best ancient manuscripts. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and Aramaic, and the New Testament was written in Greek. Bible scholars determined the wording of the original manuscripts by collecting and comparing thousands of ancient manuscripts. However, the oldest and most reliable manuscripts, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls of the Old Testament, were discovered and studied long after the King James Version was translated in 1611. Thus, it is ironic but true that newer translations use older and more dependable manuscripts as the basis for their translation. For example, the KJV includes the longer ending to the Gospel of Mark, which says that believers “shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents…” (Mark 16:17-18, KJV). These verses have been quoted by snake-handling sects, yet the earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark end with Mark 16:8! Another example is 1 John 5:7-8 (a passage mentioning the Trinity), which includes additional words in verse 7, as well as all of verse 8, that are absent from every known Greek manuscript except four manuscripts written in Greek during Middle Ages. It is apparent that a scribe added these words to testify to the Trinity. There are other scriptures that attest to the Trinity, but this is not one of them. (Those KJV Only people who argue that “liberals have taken verses out of the Bible” are ignoring the fact that the chapter and verse number system was added to the text hundreds of years after the original writings, for our convenience in referencing passages.)
All of this begs the question, if not the KJV, what translation should one use? To answer that, I refer you to a previous post I wrote, What Bible translation should I use?
Copyright by Bob Rogers
What translation of the Bible is best for a pastor to use in the pulpit? Pastors and laypeople feel differently about the issue.
My Unscientific Survey
Recently I did an unscientific opinion poll on Facebook among pastors and laypeople about what Bible translation they preferred for use from the pulpit. On a Facebook page with 1,300 pastors, I asked them what translation they used in the pulpit. Then I asked laypeople on my own Facebook page, with over 2,000 friends, what translation they preferred that their pastor use (I blocked my pastor friends from seeing the post). I received 95 responses from pastors, and 48 responses from laypeople. This is an unscientific survey, since it was based on those who decided to answer, and the two Facebook groups have demographic differences, although the pastors Facebook page is dominated by conservative evangelical Christians, and most of my friends on Facebook are also conservative evangelicals. Despite that qualification, I noticed some significant results that are worth noting. Here are the results and lessons learned:
KJV: 31 %
Given the unscientific nature of this survey and relatively small size of the sample, one should not read too much into this survey, but some trends should be noted:
*There is no one translation that the majority of people prefer. We live in an era in which many English translations of the Bible are available. No one translation is even close to being used by a majority of pastors or laypeople.
*The KJV is still the most popular translation, especially among pastors. The KJV was the number one answer among both groups, and half of all pastors either named the KJV or its updated version, the NKJV.
*There is a big divide between pastors and laypeople over the NIV. The NIV ranks beside the KJV in Bible sales in the USA, and this was reflected in the survey, as laypeople (who buy most of the Bibles) listed the NIV almost as much as the KJV. In contrast, almost no pastor listed the NIV. Laypeople also mentioned a greater variety of translations.
*The majority prefer that the pastor preach from a traditional, accurate translation. The KJV, NKJV, NASB and ESV are traditional, literal translations of the Bible. The CSB and HCSB are also accurate, though more contemporary translations, and even the NIV is much more accurate than free translations like the NLT or paraphrases like The Message. Pastors and laypeople overwhelmingly named accurate translations as their preference for pulpit use.
I do not presume to tell a pastor how to preach, but it I believe that pastors would do well to use an accurate translation from the pulpit. It has been my experience that many church members will go out and buy or download to their device the translation that their pastor uses. So choose your translation prayerfully, and use it consistently. Know your audience– just as a Hispanic pastor will choose a Spanish translation, a pastor needs to know the kind of congregation he has, and what will best communicate God’s word accurately and effectively to his people.
While reading the text from his preferred Bible translation, pastors would also do well to mention a variety of translations from time to time from the pulpit. Doing so can help clarify passages that are hard to understand, and also reminds the congregation that all English translations come from an original text that was in Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek.
Pastors should not condemn church members who are reading another translation of the Bible. Public condemnation of people over their Bible translation is unkind, and may humiliate a brother or sister in Christ who sincerely wants to know God’s word. Many new believers and young Christians prefer a more contemporary translation because they have difficulty understanding more traditional translations. If you have a conviction that they are not using a good translation of the Bible, you can instruct them lovingly and privately, as Priscilla and Aquila did with Apollos (see Acts 18:26).