The following is a comment I recently wrote in response to someone who prefers the KJV but does not insist on its exclusive use. He clearly has good education—from Southern Seminary, I believe. He also prefers the TR.
[William,] your argument that study Bibles and commentaries are just as good as using multiple translations is the first serious attempt any KJV-defender has ever made to answer my simple argument from experience, namely that checking multiple translations has helped me understand Scripture countless times. I’m afraid, however, that it “was perhaps an incautious suggestion to make to a person only too ready to write books upon the feeblest provocation” (to quote Chesterton =), because I plan to write my next book on this very topic. In other words, you make a fair argument, and I hear you.
I’m still unclear, however, and I’m genuinely curious as to what you’ll say, on what actual problems stem from the use of multiple translations in a church. It seems to me that if the pastor cannot answer the question, “But how come MY Bible says…?” then he didn’t get enough training. Such a question may require some time in the study, but if he doesn’t have the tools to answer it, he doesn’t have the tools to preach, either. I LOVE to get such questions, because I can always, always explain.
The punctuation in the KJV is not “uncommon.” It is “archaic.” It is therefore confusing to modern readers. Ask 100 lifelong KJV readers what the KJV punctuation means, and 100 of them will stare at you blankly. I’ve been reading books with contemporary punctuation conventions out loud my entire life, and I’ve never once struggled to know when to pause. William, I’ve reached the point of dismay as I write, and that’s not a good place to be, because I don’t want to offend a good brother. But I say with all my heart, you’re too smart to be saying what you’re saying! Do you honestly think that the KJV’s placement of colons and semi-colons is a bigger help for public reading than using words people actually know? And again, I don’t deny that the thees and thous are helpful in Luke 22:31–32. That’s a good example. But to take just one counterexample, do the thees and thous in the KJV really help us understand as often as quotation marks and em dashes in the ESV/NIV/NASB help us understand? And I put to you again the same question I asked earlier: what evidence do you have that the KJV translators deliberately brought thee and thou back for the sake of clarity? Did they say this? I think it’s equally possible to argue that they simply didn’t want to go to the trouble of manually replacing nearly 19,000 instances of thee, thou, ye, thine, or thy in a Bible (the Bishop’s Bible of 1568) that they were only supposed to be revising as necessary, according to Richard Bancroft’s instructions.
As for the profit motive being the reason we have so many contemporary translations, again I’m dismayed, just grieving deep in my heart. Remember, you are talking about fellow Christians here. Was Vern Poythress, an ESV translator and a very respected client of mine and influence on me, unduly motivated by profit? Was Crossway Books, run by your brothers and sisters in Christ, unduly motivated by profit in making the ESV? Is the laborer worthy of his hire—should Bibles be given away for free? Is Doug Moo, top commentator on Romans and head of the NIV translation committee, motivated by profit? What kind of car does he drive? What evidence do you have that your brothers and sisters are motivated by money rather than by love of God and love of the church?
I bring a little passion to my questions because I love the truth, and the upshot of your viewpoint is that many individual words of God are taken out of the hands of people who need them, who have a right to them. Very few people have the good theological education you’ve been given. They need a Bible in their language. I actually believe the KJV has some life left in it, too. I don’t want to be over the top. But somehow after years of TR-only guys rejecting other TR-based translations, I just can no longer believe that they’re taking an honest look at the alternatives. And then, ultimately, I can no longer believe that what they really care about is the TR. I do not call them liars. I think they are not able to see through their tradition, a sin of which we are all at times guilty.
The other day I was raked over the coals by some commenters at the Logos Talk Blog for questioning the practice of capitalizing deity pronouns. I got BRUTAL comments (a few of which I had to delete) accusing me of giving in to all sorts of demonic wickedness. You tamper with people’s traditions, and they will lash out at you like a wolverine in a trap. It’s scary to me, because I have to wonder how often I’m doing the same thing. I hope I’m not; my life is a continual effort to reform my traditions by Scripture. But I have come to the conclusion that all defenses of the modern use of the KJV are examples of making void the word of God by tradition. That word tells us, especially in 1 Cor 14, that intelligibility is key to edification. And though the KJV is still largely intelligible, it is—through no fault of the KJV translators but merely because of the inevitable process of language change—unnecessarily unintelligible in countless little places. You’re going to have to make time to read my book. =) I will prove this assertion.
And now a bonus for those of you who made it this far. I just got the cover for my new book, Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible. Details on how to pre-order it will be coming soon, Lord willing. My friend Bryan Hintz here at Faithlife did a fantastic job, I think (he also produced an ingenious cover design for Andy Naselli’s recent No Quick Fix—and used my handwriting!). Without further ado: