A Thought on a 400th Birthday, or “Why I don’t make my kids read the King James Version of the Bible”

In the world I live in, the KJV-only and the KJV-preferred are the two most common positions on Bible version preference. Many of the people in my life would go so far as to say there is no other acceptable English translation of the Bible than the KJV.

I don’t hold to either of these positions.  Further,  I have recently become convinced that there is not one bone in my body  and not one whisper of a thought in my mind that I should  guide my children toward either one of these positions.

Short reason: my children are Americans and the KJV is old English. It isn’t written in their language.

(Funny story: once I visited Spurgeon’s church in London. After the service, I was chatting with a young lady, and she said something I couldn’t quite catch. I asked her to repeat herself. She did. I still didn’t understand her. Although we were both speaking English, we weren’t speaking the same language. I imagine she went home and said, “I met a lady from California today and couldn’t understand a thing she said! Americans!”)

I know all about the majestic flow of the words, the way the particular words wash over you and throw you on your face in reverence. I know how connected I myself am to the very words of the Psalms, the Sermon on the Mount, and so forth. But God doesn’t call us to get in intimate touch with the particular words…He wants us to KNOW HIM.  Therefore, if the particular translation keeps my children from KNOWING GOD, it’s over. Happy 400th—see ya.

Because my children can’t understand it. That’s it.  When my children read the KJV, they are not drawn to KNOWING GOD deeper, they are frustrated with the language. They don’t know what it says unless I spoon-feed it to them a la your sophomore English teacher and Julius Caesar. Line by frustrating line, until people are playing tic-tac-toe, passing notes, and making googly eyes at the hunk in the back row.

But if they really try, they could, you say. If you went to the trouble to teach them. Or even, You could make them sit for it. Wow, now that would be a great way to get them to Love Jesus, dontcha think? Force them to get used to  the thees, thous, cansts, cameths, the innumerable sentences that begin with “and,” the “lets” that mean the opposite of “let,” the “prevents” that mean “precedes” and so forth.

But guess what? I’m not putting my kids through that in order to understand the WORD of the LIVING GOD. Not doing it.

The line-by-lining your Shakespeare teacher did is not reading, by the way. It’s translation.  And that’s what happens with the KJV. It hits you as early as the word “firmament,” and continues through the final amen.

I want my children to be able to read the Word of God in English without having to have me or their dad handy to tell them what it means. I want them to be able to engage with God independently. I want them to have a personal relationship that is actually personal, to which I am not an intermediary. Nothing between their souls and the Savior.

If I was going to teach them a new language so that they could understand the Bible better, it would be Greek, not Shakespearean English.  But until we get Koine Greek on Rosetta Stone,  I’m going to provide them with an  English-language Bible that is understandable by ordinary Americans.

My favorite pro-KJV quote came off the sermonaudio.com web site a year or two ago. There was the typical back-and-forthing that goes on on the sermonaudio news page. Someone said something about needing a translation that a new believer could understand, and some man wrote back something like this: “Give him the KJV. I’ve been reading it for fifty years and I have no problem understanding it.”

Laugh out loud. I guess you’d understand it if you’d read it for 50 years!!!

Here’s one other tiny little thing. Ready? No one actually believes the KJV translation is perfect. You can tell, because every single preacher has to clarify the meaning of the words! He has to stand there and say, what it means is….  or The Greek word here means….. (then giving a word that is different from the KJV word) and so on. He takes the “perfect” translation and then re-translates it anyway! So, is he lying when he says he believes it’s perfect? Or is he a heretic for re-translating perfection? Or is he simply doing his congregation a big fat favor by clarifying a word that no longer has meaning for us today?  

Here’s a great argument for the KJV-only position (I just now read something like this on sermonaudio.com): “Either God or the Devil kept the KJV alive until now. Are you saying it was the Devil and not God? And if you admit that it’s God who preserved the KJV all this time, then you’re fighting against God when you say it’s not His own holy purpose…” etc.

C’mon, people! Just because God used fallible men to translate the old texts into this particular version that has been around nearly half a millenium doesn’t mean this is the book I have to use in my home! That doesn’t mean I think Satan preserved it—that’s a silly argument. Chaucer has been preserved too. And Beowulf, but please don’t tell me that means I have to teach them to my children.

God uses French translations in France, German translations in Germany, Japanese translations in Japan, Wycliffe translations all over the world, and even (gasp) American translations in America!

I hear you from here, you 1611 devotee, you! You want to know which one I am shackeling my children with. Because some of those heretical, liberal, gender-neutral, virgin-means-young-girl translations will send those kids to hell!  So, okay, I’ll confess. Here in my house we have the following Bible versions: the English Standard, the New International, the New King James, the King James, the New Life, da Jesus Book (Hawaiian Pidgin, a Wycliffe translation), and even (shock) a Living Bible, and (you better sit down, friend) a Revised Standard. 

And here’s the thing, we don’t just read them. We read them aloud. We read them together. We read them silently. We read them independently. We memorize in different versions! We talk about them. We believe them. We are all about the Bible. And because our FAITH is in the Incarnate Word of God and we are empowered by the Spirit of God, and we are seeking after the Father with humble hearts, I believe the Lord will keep us faithful as we seek to know Him, the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His suffering. (Or, “I want to know Christ better. I want to know the power that raised Him from the dead. I want to share in His sufferings. I want to become like Him by sharing in His death.” New International Reader’s Version. Not majestic: clear.)

So, my position is: translate faithfully. Translate from the Greek, the Hebrew, the Aramaic. Give me the Word of God in my language. As Wycliffe would have said had he lived now, Let the burger-flippers of America know more Bible than the Pope in Rome. Heads up: they won’t be able to if they have to learn an ancient language first.