The Reading Level of the KJV

HomeworkI love the King James Version; it deserves its honored place in English church history. Its words will never leave my heart. But to be honest, I have trouble reading it in places—even though I grew up with it. And this is a concern to me, because I want to understand what I read in the Bible.

People who believe in exclusive use of the King James Version are sensitive to my plight. They have worked to demonstrate that the KJV is actually easier to read than modern English Bible translations. Says av1611.org:

Every new Bible that hits the market attacks the King James Bible with the flat-out lie that the KJB is too hard to understand. They all claim that the King James Bible is too archaic. You can’t understand the Elizabethan language. It’s just too difficult to understand. This is the number one reason people lay down their King James Bible.

KJV defenders confidently claim that all those Bible readers who think they can’t understand the KJV because of its archaic language are simply wrong. Says R.B. Ouellette:

Recent evaluation shows the reading level of the King James Bible to be fifth grade, as a whole—many individual passages would be lower. The modern Bibles are shown to be between sixth and ninth grade levels as a whole. The modern versions claim to increase readability when in reality, they often make readability more difficult.

How do they know the KJV is more readable? The folks at av1611.org, to their genuine credit, actually sat down and did the work:

We “scientifically and grammatically” compared the ESV to the archaic, hard-to-understand King James Bible…. Anyone with a PC, a Bible Program, and WordPerfect can easily (in less than 30 minutes) duplicate the following tests. Utilizing Quickverse Bible software, we copied the complete New Testament text of the King James Bible and the ESV into text files. With no modifications, no editing, but exactly as they came from Quickverse, we opened the KJB and the ESV New Testament text files in Corel Wordperfect. We then simply performed the Grammar checking function within WordPerfect….

And what was the result? The King James Bible literally “blew the doors off” the ESV! The following verifiable scientific results do not lie. [emphasis original]

These are the relevant results as reported at av1611.org:

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level for the New Testament

  • KJV: 4.32
  • ESV: 8.22

Game, set, match. KJV wins.

Right?

Why Flesch-Kincaid is (Mostly) Irrelevant to the KJV Debate

Computers are smart; they can do a lot of stuff I can’t do, like copy the entire New Testament in less than a second.

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 10.29.30 PMBut one thing computers can’t do (so far) is interpret human language reliably. Have you met Siri?

Me: Siri, where’s the nearest Chick-Fil-A?

Siri: Calling Chicken Filets, Inc., 144 Mackinaw Avenue, Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Me: No, don’t call them, Siri.

Siri: I did not call them “Siri.”

Me: Nevermind.

Siri: I’m really sorry about this, but I can’t take any requests right now.

Siri’s great for simple things like setting alarms and calling sisters, but interpreting complex language is not a simple thing. It’s unbelievably amazing—any human brain can beat the biggest super computer when it comes to understanding human language.

So what, exactly, is the computer-aided Flesch-Kincaid analysis doing when it “reads” the KJV New Testament and spits out a grade level? I’ll tell you:

flesh-kincaid
(image courtesy Wikipedia)

It’s doing what computers do best: math. There are precisely three elements Flesch-Kincaid measures: 1) the number of words, 2) the number of sentences, and 3) the number of syllables.

All the other major reading-level measures—ARI, SMOG, Coleman-Liau, Gunning fog—are performing variations on the same three elements (plus letters in the case of one of them).

As rough-and-ready measures, these are useful tools. Readability-score.com even gives an aggregate from all the numbers provided by these scientific measures.

But when it comes to comparing the KJV and modern English Bible translations (ESV, NIV, etc.), all these measures are (mostly) irrelevant, for two big reasons and at least one little one:

1) None of these computer grading tools can judge how rare words and phrases are, or notice their spellings.

Wikipedia’s entry on the Gunning fog index says,

While the fog index is a good sign of hard-to-read text, it has limits. Not all complex words are difficult. For example, “asparagus” is not generally thought to be a difficult word, though it has four syllables. A short word can be difficult if it is not used very often by most people.

Succour” is a two-syllable word; “besom” too. The phrase “to wit” contains two one-syllable words. Not too complicated. But I’ve never used any of these words or phrases in my entire life outside reading and discussing the KJV. Nobody—nobody—uses these words. That’s what “archaic” means. And Flesch-Kincaid has no idea.

Likewise, “shew” and “saith” and other words inexperienced KJV readers may stumble over aren’t difficult, per se. But their spellings are strange by modern standards, and that has to be a factor in readability. But Flesch-Kincaid doesn’t measure spelling.

2) Word order (syntax) plays no role in these reading-level analyses.

Play no role word order can—Yoda has pointed out—until smarter computers get. For example, Col. 2:23 in the KJV has always tripped me up. I understand every word individually, but not when you put them together:

Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.

What is “will worship”? Each word is simple and commonly used, but put them together and I don’t know what they mean. And what does that last phrase mean—“not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh”? I know what satisfying the flesh means, but “not in any honour to” is too hard for me. I don’t understand it. Does Flesch? Does Kincaid?

I can make much better sense of the modern translations at Col. 2:23—they’re all easier to read. But several of the major modern translations have higher readability scores for that verse:

  • KJV: 15.4
  • NKJV: 17.8“These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.”
  • ESV: 18.1“These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”

(I recognize that these measures were not designed to be used on one sentence, so I measured the whole paragraph, Col. 2:20–23. And see also the NASB and the NIV, which have lower reading-level scores than the KJV here.)

Vocabulary is a big enough issue—I do not believe that competent speakers of respectable contemporary English should be required to look up English words in a Bible translation when common equivalents are available. Why translate the Bible at all if you aren’t going to use the language as it stands? But word order is, in my judgment, actually a bigger readability issue in the KJV than vocabulary. Take a look at the word order, for example, in Habakkuk 2:18?

What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it? (KJV)

Is “the graven image” a direct object of “profiteth” or the subject of “profiteth”? Modern versions use modern syntax, which is easier to read for modern people:

What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it? (ESV)

Flesch-Kincaid can see that the KJV rendering is longer, but it can’t see the most significant readability difference between these two translations—because it doesn’t measure word order.

3) Typography plays no role in these reading analyses.

This point is admittedly minor compared to the other two, but I do think it matters: the ESV and other modern translations characteristically use paragraphing and indenting of poetic lines more than most KJV editions do. Let me hasten to add that there have been KJV editions with excellent typography, even paragraphed editions, going back into the 19th century. But most KJV editions (and, admittedly, a lot of NASB editions) I see today turn every verse into a separate paragraph, and that’s not helpful for careful, contextually sensitive reading.

Also, the KJV uses a different system of punctuation marks than we’re accustomed to as contemporary readers. I don’t blame the KJV translators at all for the lack of quotation marks; they weren’t standard in 1611, when our modern punctuation system was still developing. And the use of colons and semi-colons in the KJV is something I’d love to find more information on; I looked in the standard sources and found little help. But we’re left with “missing” punctuation and punctuation that just doesn’t fit modern rules. And yet Flesch-Kincaid does not measure these things.

(And one more minor thing: the practice of italicizing English words supplied by the translators should be dropped. I’ve never heard anyone use this convention well in interpretation. People who don’t read Greek and Hebrew simply don’t understand what it means for a word to be “supplied,” and the practice, I’ve read, is haphazard anyway.)

What Is the Reading Level of the KJV?

I’m not accusing any KJV defender of lying or of purposeful deception, not in the least (although I’m compelled to say that I did not get the same Flesch-Kincaid results Gail Riplinger did, and I have no explanation for this fact). And I’m not saying that computer-aided reading-level analyses are worthless. I’m saying that KJV defenders are using these mathematical tools for a purpose for which they were not designed, and are therefore getting erroneous results.

Still don’t believe me? Go to Readability-score.com and run a Spanish text or an Italian one through these analyses and the computer will have no idea. It’ll just keep doing math like it’s been told. In fact, the Swedish translation of the book of James has a Flesch-Kincaid score of 6.3 while the KJV score for that same book is 7.3. But even I, dumb as I am compared to a computer, can tell you that the KJV is easier for 21st-century Americans to read than the Svenska Folkbibeln.

Reading-level analyses run by computers will not yield reliable results when used on archaic English. So what is the reading level of the KJV? I ran the numbers, too, and you can see them here. But I’m not putting them in my post—even though my results show that the ESV was more readable under every major measure—because I still believe they’re (mostly) irrelevant. A computerized test is simply not the best way to measure the readability of the KJV.

I suggest that av1611.org mentioned and then dismissed the best measure: people. If reading difficulty is the number one reason people set aside the KJV in favor of a modern translation such as the ESV, then perhaps they know better than their computers. It’s a little odd, in fact, that someone would presume to tell numerous Bible readers, “Stop complaining—you can read the KJV just fine.” How do they know?

A courteous Christian brother who is KJV-Only told me recently,

I have found that people living in the jungles of Guyana [the lone English-speaking country in South America] are having no problem reading and memorizing passages of the King James Version.

I find this simply unbelievable, not because a computer told me the KJV was harder to read than the ESV, but because I’m a person, a reader. I know when something is easy or hard to read. When KJV defenders not only refuse to admit that the KJV is more difficult to read than modern translations, but insist that no one should have any trouble—and that the KJV is actually easier to read than the NIV or ESV—I’m at a loss. Where does the discussion go after that? I prefer the person who says, “I know the KJV is tough to read; the Bible isn’t supposed to be easy. So do some study.” I can have a conversation with that person.

Conclusion

I’d like to end on a positive note: I don’t think readability ought to be the sole criterion for choosing a Bible translation. And I actually do think that Flesch-Kincaid analyses end up giving a kind of praise and support to the beautiful, enduring King James Version.

Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 10.27.08 AMYes, using every available measure, the KJV came out as less readable than the ESV—but only slightly. How much difference is there, after all, between 7.1 and 9.2? Very little.

I think these numbers suggest that not much revision may be needed to make the KJV understandable to contemporary readers. Keep the same original language texts (the Masoretic Hebrew text and the Greek Textus Receptus), replace archaic words with respectable modern equivalents, shift the syntax and punctuation a bit to fit contemporary conventions, and I believe you’ll end up with an excellent translation.

In fact, I’ll give you one. It’s called the New King James Version. If King James Only brothers and sisters are truly concerned to have a readable and reliable translation of the best original language texts, they would do well to start with the NKJV.

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

36 thoughts on “The Reading Level of the KJV”

  1. I had someone remark to me recently that modern translations all carry copyrights, and that that one fact showed they were all the work of men, not God. I did not succeed answering back as politely as I should have. You’ve done a much better job than I did.

  2. I was KJV-Only when I came to college, and I still very much love and appreciate the teachers in the KJV-Only high school I graduated from. I have a simple, straightforwardly biblical answer to the copyright claim: the laborer is worthy of his hire. Someone who goes to the trouble of translating and editing and printing a Bible should not be expected to do it all for free. And all a copyright does is keep unscrupulous people from stealing all that work.

  3. My reply was very similar to yours. Unfortunately the only result was for her to remark that she needed to find a better argument for defending her position. Today’s equivalent of William Tyndale’s “common ploughboy” has enough trouble reading even the newspaper on a serious level. The KJV puts much of God’s Word completely out of reach for such a person. In that light, the value of the updated translations seems so self-evident that I find it hard to get my head around why this is so hard to agree upon. I have heard the arguments. They just don’t track for me.

  4. “In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth” (2Ti 2:25 KJV). I’ve often seen real irony in this rendering: I think the KJV-Only movement is only hurting themselves and their own children—they’re “opposing themselves.” My heart goes out to them. I’m not angry. And yet we must be patient, Paul says. God seems to be pretty patient with my faults.

  5. Claudia, you may have to confirm this but I believe the KJV was copyrighted when it was first produced.

    Note that the WEB version of the Bible has never been copyrighted.

  6. If Wikipedia is correct (and I’ve heard from other sources that it is), the KJV *still is* copyrighted in the UK (even though that’s not the word being used):

    “The Authorized Version is in the public domain in most of the world. However, in the United Kingdom, the right to print, publish and distribute it is a Royal prerogative and the Crown licenses publishers to reproduce it under letters patent… Cambridge University Press permits the reproduction of at most 500 verses for ‘liturgical and non-commercial educational use’ if their prescribed acknowledgement is included, the quoted verses do not exceed 25% of the publication quoting them and do not include a complete Bible book.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_James_Version#Copyright_status

  7. This post represents the familiar winsomeness that so impressed me the first time I heard it (which was during the VIP Bible integration presentation in April 2011. It is possibly the most “manifesto-like” of all your writings on the topic (that I have read).

    As usual, I agree with your points and still find it hard to read, though not as hard as some others. This doesn’t have the same “gotcha” feel as some other posts, including but not limited to the enlightening and oft-cited (by me) article on Romans 5:8 you wrote and recommended.

    And again, as usual, I insist that the reason that I continue to be only-KJV (I’m still waiting for widespread recognition of the distinction between KJVO and OKJV) is because I have committed so much Scripture to memory that to introduce ESV or NASB (two versions I am fine with) to my regular reading routine would dilute some of the memorization that has been so valuable to me my whole spiritual life, while I expect (I can only expect without actually conducting the experiment) the benefit of clarification of some arguably obscure KJV renderings would not, from a cost-benefit standpoint, be valuable enough to make it worth my while.

    You know how I feel about the KJVO people. They set my teeth on edge most of the time. I, like you, count many (most) of my friends among them, and I never bring it up (most of my life is lived at the cost-benefit analysis level). I don’t have a problem with others using other versions; I actually encourage my 6th-8th grade Sunday school boys to do so, though I have to be careful because some of their parents are KJVO (my current church is not KJVO, but about 50% of the people are).

    But one point I might make in the KJV’s defense, not a novel one by any means, but one that has educational significance as well: how do we best serve those who lack the cognitive skills to access a text, be it a textbook or The Book? Do we serve them most by providing them access to the text at their current reading level, or do we provide scaffolding for them to reach a higher reading level? Is it a disservice to students (whether in school or Sunday school or neighborhood Bible study) to deprive them of the rich experiences we enjoy by failing to challenge them? Reading Shakespeare is a challenge. Reading poetry is a challenge. Reading many (I almost said most) things worth reading is a challenge! It is reasonable to expect that reading the Bible will be a challenge.

    Caveat: Shakespeare and the Bible is a false comparison. Shakespeare has no eternal consequences, no divine inspiration, no living power, etc., so the fact that a reader would struggle to understand the Bible has much more significance than the same of Shakespeare. And one of my mantras is that it is wrong to erect any unnecessary hurdle between a person and the gospel. The readability of the KJV may well fall into that category.

    At the end of the day, having the gospel in one’s native language is the essence of accessibility. So while I’m not opposed in principle to anything that you are saying (KJV is harder to read, the Flesch-Kincaid scores are not relevant to this discussion, and good alternatives exist), if most people who complained about the KJV did so on the basis that it is cognitively inaccessible to them, I would grant them some license. But I would not excuse the same person for employing the same excuse about Shakespeare. That apparent double standard is the fountain head of much of the KJVO argument: that we do people an academic disservice by dumbing down the language to give them better access to it. What, would you have us update Shakespeare? Don’t you realize how much of the essence of Shakespeare would be lost by a modern translation? This failure to distinguish between academic disservice and spiritual disservice is significant, and I fear, overlooked.

    And one final point: there are two parallel conversations happening in the KJV debate, and I fear that the failure to distinguish them results in an unfortunate fallacy. There are at least two types of readers who react against the lack of readability in the KJV: those who are genuinely unable to comprehend it due to educational background or cognitive deficiency. There are others who react the same way to the KJV that they react to Shakespeare, and without merit. They are capable of applying themselves more carefully to the text than they do, and it is this type that solicits the frequent accusation from KJVO that “lazy readers should not be accommodated by dumbed-down translations.” And for these readers, that’s a lot of what other versions are, though in my limited experience, this type of reader often opts for a version that most sensitive Bible readers would recognize as being problematic. And if I could venture a guess at your response to the point that “lazy readers just want a more accessible translation”: “why shouldn’t they?”

  8. Some good points, Austin. I do wish we could bring people up to the level of the KJV. I wish I could bring myself up to that level. I think I’m close, but maybe I’m “cheating” because 1) I’ve read several contemporary translations all the way through and I know what some passages are saying thereby, 2) I can read Greek and Hebrew and check myself if I need to. There are still some sentences in the KJV that I can’t make any sense of (Col. 2:23b is one—and I’ve checked it with some folks with a lot of English training who didn’t persuade me that they understood it any better than I. Ps. 37:8b is another.)

    I’m not as concerned about bright people with good education—though I am convinced that, unless they possess those two criteria I just mentioned, they’re all missing more than they could know. I’m primarily concerned about the boy that driveth the plough. God used Κοινή Greek, the common tongue. Some New Testament books are more difficult than others, but as best I can tell (borrowing from at least one person who knew Greek better than most men alive), the KJV is more difficult to read for English-speakers than the Greek New Testament was for Κοινή Greek speakers with comparable levels of education. I’m not as qualified to speak of Hebrew, though I have read that narrative portions, especially, are relatively simple. I can confirm this regarding the portions of the Old Testament I have read through in Hebrew (the poetic portions are more difficult).

    After discussing readability level we have to bring up the delicate question of overall translation quality. And this I can speak to with confidence: the KJV is stupendous, but it is one translation among many stupendous translations we have. And it isn’t as stupendous as several of the modern translations. I view the KJV as a genuine peer of main translations I use. I take its “vote” seriously on difficult-to-render passages. Sometimes I think it has the best rendering. But after many years of constantly comparing translations with the originals, it’s clear to me that the KJV has more poor translations than the others. It’s still stupendous, and I mean that with utter sincerity. But several modern translations are simply better, even setting aside archaisms of vocabulary and syntax.

    Your Shakespeare analogy, as you grant a little, is actually pretty dangerously misleading in my opinion: it muddles the issues and borrows cultural cachet for a viewpoint that is keeping God’s words out of people’s hands. Of course no one wants to dumb down Shakespeare. But what about translations of Homer? Should they be placed into Shakespearean language? Would that produce an “accurate” translation? Perhaps, but accurate for whom? A long-dead generation of English-speakers.

    I’m concerned about your kids and mine, Austin. I’m concerned about the average Christian who spends all day on the factory line or in an insurance office or changing diapers. It sounds honoring to Scripture to say that we don’t want to dumb it down, but if I’m right, that’s a criticism against God Himself. God had access to a classic literary form of Greek, and He did not use it. People should not read the KJV as their main translation, anymore than Filipinos should use classic literary forms of Tagalog or Italians should use the Italian of Dante. Such people will be missing out on many of God’s words.

    People should still use the KJV, and often. We should all use the many good translations we have. And I plan to give my kids some exposure to the KJV at least for cultural reasons—for Christian culture and the broader culture, which still is full of beautiful KJV phrases. But handing my children a Bible translation which speaks a language they will never fully learn is something I refuse to do, on deep principle.

  9. One other thing that causes KJVO to be so intractable (though they would probably not agree) is what I first heard from Dorothy Sayers, though not original to her: laudator temporis acti (praiser of times past). As I’m sure you know, that is not my motivation, but it is a pervasive psychological influence, often covert, and especially so to those infected with it. I’ve experienced enough of that for several lifetimes.

  10. Excellent point. One of the saddest ironies I know of in this world is the very first paragraph of the KJV Preface, “Translators to the Reader”:

    The best things have been calumniated. Zeal to promote the common good, whether it be by devising anything ourselves, or revising that which hath been laboured by others, deserveth certainly much respect and esteem, but yet findeth but cold entertainment in the world. It is welcomed with suspicion instead of love, and with emulation instead of thanks: and if there be any hole left for cavil to enter, (and cavil, if it do not find a hole, will make one) it is sure to be misconstrued, and in danger to be condemned.

  11. Speaking of that preface, Austin, have you read it? (I found this great copy.) By the second sentence, we reach a linguistic problem prescriptivists have a very hard time even understanding, let alone explaining: namely a word which we use commonly but which meant something different (when used in that context) in 1611—in fact, a word which now generally means the opposite of what the KJV translators meant by it. Can you find the word? =)

    By sentence three we’ve got another word which is being used in a way no one today ever uses it. I puzzled over it, because I could sort of make sense of it. It took a trip to the OED to clear up my confusion.

    Unless we’re going to say that language should not change (which would be odd because 1. our language is the result of change and 2. so were the languages God used to inspire Scripture), we’re going to have to grant the reality that translations will need to be updated. I persist in saying that the OED is a specialist’s tool which we should not require laypeople to purchase before they can read their Bibles.

  12. Woah, woah, woah! This is extremely interesting for many reasons, including one secret reason! =) I have to tell someone else I know immediately. This information could be very helpful to people: it could show—in English—what difference the textual basis actually makes. But I have to see if they changed any renderings in the ESV or if they just added “missing” verses. I say “missing,” of course, because to say it without quotation marks would be to imply that the TR is the standard.

  13. Huh. This page shows that the Gideons didn’t bring their ESV wholly in line with the TR. They just seemed to have picked out the most obvious differences… I need to look into this a little more.

  14. Our church includes a very diverse selection of individuals. Many college educated, but also there are some who are having trouble passing the GED as adults. I do not understand the logic that says that not only should we not only want them to understand Scripture, but we also want them to–essentially–learn to speak 1600’s English, practically a foreign language for them. ESV sufficiently balances readability and accuracy. Is this not an area where we need to bear with those who would find the KJV an impediment to their ability and confidence in reading Scripture for themselves and studying it as a church?

    I’m sympathetic to the discussion about verses that a person has already memorized. That’s even an issue for me, because I already had so many committed to memory.

    I wonder, Mark, if you might comment on how a church would go about Bible memory when there is such a diversity? Many of our folk were raised on the KJV, but we now use ESV. Any tips?

    I appreciate your blog.

  15. Great question, Andrea. And I’m totally with you on serving the poorly educated. There will be things in the Bible that are difficult to access for them, even in the easiest translation—that’s true of the bright and highly educated, too, and I say that on the authority of 2 Peter 3:16. But reality (in my experience) is that once you hit a certain age, your reading skills are unlikely to improve much. We should indeed bear with those who are weak. And as you say, we don’t have to give up an accurate translation to do it.

    The ESV is actually very similar to the KJV. That’s one of the reasons I chose it. Switching one’s memorization to the ESV shouldn’t be a terrible jump. I am sympathetic to the problem, too, but I have to wonder how many adult Christians actually memorize Scripture. I honestly don’t know.

    And to answer your last question, I have to wonder how many churches engage in much church-wide Bible memorization. When we do that at my church, every year or couple years, we have a KJV bunch, a NASB bunch, and an ESV bunch. Memory verse sheets for kids are printed up in all three versions.

    Rather than seeing this as a terrible situation placing undue burden on Christian unity, I choose to see the bright side: my kids will be inoculated against any-version-onlyism. They will, I hope, take for granted the value of having and using multiple translations. This is something I hope to do more work on in the future: helping laypeople confidently receive the value of multiple translations rather than being afraid that two “Bibles” will disagree and they’ll be stuck.

  16. Thank you so much for going through this, this is the best analysis I have seen on the topic. KJOers are simply cutting and pasting this Flesch-Kincaid claim, but – perhaps not surprisingly, given what they do with Burgon or Riplinger – no-one seems to check the math.

  17. Glad to be of service! Hey, we all do things like this. Who has the time and inclination to check out every claim that fits with your worldview? But it’s still the calling of Bible teachers to patiently instruct those who oppose themselves. I really like the KJV wording there for this situation, because the KJVOs who use this readability argument are only hurting themselves. Since they’re my brothers and sisters in Christ and I care about them, I’m trying to patiently instruct them.

  18. What I got out of this article was that Mark dislikes the KJV Bible. He even goes so far to say that the KJV is not a reliable translation and we should use the “modern” NKJV instead!

    Think of those poor KJVO’s sticking to one Bible and “hurting” themselves and “hurting” their children. How will they ever recover from the “shame” of using one Bible. Why doesn’t the ESV just add an 11th commandment that says, “Thou shall read from modern Bible versions based on the Greek text of Westcott-Hort.” Because everyone knows that new Bible versions aren’t big business (wink). It’s not like the Bible is the best selling book EVERY single year (wink wink).

  19. Derek,

    This is not true. I like the KJV very much. It will never leave my heart or my head. I have difficulty understanding it in many places, despite trying for years to understand it better.

    And I did not (in this post, though I have done so elsewhere) recommend a Bible version based on the Greek text of Westcott and Hort. I recommended the NKJV, which is based on the same Greek text as the KJV.

    Have you ever read the NKJV?

  20. Are you insinuating that people are getting dumber, hence the need to dumb things down? My problem is that the new translations have omitted complete text and even changed their original meanings. As far as getting paid for producing these bibles, I am not completely opposed to that. But, we all know that these publishers are doing more than just that. They’re literally lining their pockets. It’s what the KJV calls filthy lucre. There are many churches that make copies of the bible in different languages and don’t make a profit. They depend on donations. Are we trying to spread the gospel, or make a business out of it? I don’t condemn anybody for using a different bible version, but don’t feed me this nonsense about these translations being superior. During Great Awakening, the Authorized Version was used and God honored it. This was during a time of great persecution.

  21. John, you say publishers of new translations are lining their pockets. This is a serious charge to make against other believers in Christ. Can you point to any evidence that this is the case, evidence which required someone to leave his armchair to gather? What are the profits of these publishers? What counts as acceptable profit, 4%? What counts as excessive, 25%, 50%? Which companies, precisely, are engaging in this sin?

    I didn’t say that modern translations are superior to the KJV. I don’t think that’s the case. I think it’s apples to oranges: the KJV was a translation into a different, earlier form of our language. It’s not the KJV translators’ fault that their excellent work needs revision because of the natural process of language change.

    And what does “lucre” mean? Can you tell me without looking it up in a dictionary? This is all my point: why can’t I have that verse (Titus 1:11) in my language? Why do I have to have a word like “lucre” in there that I don’t know and never use (except when talking about the Bible)? “Lucre” was a great word to choose in 1611, I’m ready to believe (I can’t know because I don’t know that form of English very well). But today I know for certain that no one uses it. I just want to know what God said!

    This post of mine has been out for over a year; I happen to know it has had a large number of views in that time. And no KJV defender has written me publicly or privately to say, “We’re sticking with the KJV, but we now see that we were wrong to claim that computer readability tests prove the KJV is more readable than the modern versions.” I predict that as long as I live, KJV-Only individuals will be repeating their claim that computers prove their point. I’d like to see one of them, just one, publicly admit that they’ve been wrong to use this particular argument.

  22. Great post! Thank you. If you’ll notice, the Gunning-Fog gives a much more accurate portrayal of the difficulty of the KJV (grading it around 12 instead of 7-9); that’s b/c they use a word list to determine vocab complexity, not just a syllable count. I would guess that the folks who cite non-native speakers who can “easily read” the KJV probably are just don’t realize the difference between “decoding readers” (being able to speak the words, ie, “quote the scripture”) vs. actually having full “reading comprehension” (understanding what they are reading). From my experience teaching English in other countries, speakers have a tendency to over-estimate their ability—they will read a passage (of a newspaper or anything really) and if I ask, “Did you understand?” they will say, “Yes.” Of course, if I ask them to explain back what they read, I will find out that they misunderstood much of it. As you yourself experienced with the KJV, you can “know all the words” without really understanding the meaning. And, as you point out, the whole point of having scripture in the common tongue (English in our case) in the first place is for it to be understandable…

  23. An excellent point. This fits my personal experience as a reader—I could “decode” in that sense just fine beginning at a young age. But I overestimated by ability to understand the English I was reading.

    But as for Gunning-Fog using a word list to determine vocab complexity, perhaps you’re talking about a specialized form of the index—because Wikipedia says Gunning-Fog doesn’t have a word list. If I’m wrong about this, I’d really like to know, because I’m about to take this blog post into print.

  24. In reply to Mr. Ward’s comment of Sept. 3, 2016 11:55pm:

    The King James Version is, without a doubt, the greatest achievement of the English language, albeit it is hard to read in places.

    You mention the word “lucre” as a word most readers would have to look up to know what it means. And what’s so wrong with that? Even though “lucre” is not not used much today, it is still being used by writers (see dictionary.com).

    Noticed that I used “albeit” in my first sentence. Another great word. I never used it much until I started to use the KJV again. You can find it in Ezekiel 13:7 and Philemon 1:19. Ever since I started using the word in my writing, I’ve noticed it in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and, believe it or not, The USA Today!

    Another word I like is “suborn”. I heard it on TV and read it every once in awhile in detective novels, but never really knew what it meant. One day I’m reading in the book of Acts and, lo and behold, there is suborned! (Acts 6:11)

    The context of the verse made it’s meaning clear to me (a bribe or otherwise induce [someone] to commit perjury).

    But you’re right. The KJV has a lot of words we don’t use any longer. However, the edition I use defines those obsolete words at the end of the verse. And it’s hard to read. But remember what St. Peter said? He said that some of the stuff St. Paul wrote is hard to understand! (see 2 Peter 3:16)

    My point is this: the majesty of the KJV is undeniable (can you honestly say that any other translation even comes close to the Psalms of the KJV?). Why not encourage people to read the KJV and get educated at the same time?

  25. These are good questions, and I appreciate you writing in and using real-life examples.

    I’m a writer. I like words. I’d like to think I have a pretty large active vocabulary, and that the availability of so many lexemes with so many individual nuances is one of the reasons English is such a great language for a writer to inherit. I have no complaint against someone who wants to use suborn, albeit, and lucre in their written or even spoken vocabulary. I have no complaint against someone who wants to teach those words to his or her students or children.

    I will observe only that there is a difference between eat and dine, and between rest and repose. The difference is the level of formality, or perhaps (a related issue) of social register. Yes, in one sense eat and dine mean the same thing: to consume a meal. But each also belongs in a particular context. Eat is an every-day word. Dine is a hoity-toity word. People are free to use hoity-toity words when those words suit their purposes. There are highly formal occasions in which “Shall we dine?” can be uttered with no trace of irony and “Let’s eat!” would be rightly interpreted as gauche.

    And there are such formal contexts in the Bible. Some of the psalms included. A translator should feel free to use the word dine when the context calls for it. The NIV is completely right to use it in this sentence from Proverbs, for example:

    When you sit to dine with a ruler, note well what is before you (Pr 23:1).

    Ancient rulers didn’t “chow down,” they “sat to dine.”

    But should a Bible translation make it a policy to choose the more formal word in every single case? Should Romans 14:2 be translated, “One person believes he may dine on anything, while the weak person dines only on vegetables”? No. And why not? Because the Greek of the New Testament is not typically formal, stuffy, elegant Greek but day-to-day Greek. The very name for it is “Koine,” or “common.” God chose to inspire the NT not in a special religious argot but in the language of the people.

    My complaint about the KJV is not a complaint about the level of formality chosen by the KJV translators; I don’t have an ear sensitive enough to 17th century English (beyond the KJV) to know how the KJV struck its original hearers (and I don’t know anyone who does), but I don’t imagine it all sounded elegant, majestic, formal, and religious to them—the way it does to us. That’s my “complaint” about the, yes, excellent translation we know as the KJV. It makes God’s word sound like he purposefully chose an exalted, formal, language distant from where we live, when that’s simply not true. The KJV language sounds majestic to us because of many accidents of history. But did not generally choose majestic language, even for majestic statements.

    Peter’s comment about the difficulty of some of Paul’s writing is not a warrant for us to make it even more difficult, unnecessarily difficult. And that’s the other problem with the now-archaic vocabulary and syntax of the KJV: it doesn’t just give readers the wrong idea about the formality God chose; it actually causes readers to stumble. Why should someone be required to look up an obscure word in a dictionary when a well known equivalent is available? What’s the point of translating if we’re going to use words people don’t know (when, again, words they do know are available)?

    I do not say that we ought to remove all difficulties from the Bible. That’s both impossible and undesirable. Some passages, some words, will always be obscure. We don’t have “eunuchs” or “mandrakes,” so there are no equivalent words to use. We don’t have “chamberlains,” either, but in most cases in which the KJV uses that word we have more perspicuous alternatives—and the modern translations typically use those.

    The call of the Reformation was to put the Bible in the language of the people. As best I can tell, the KJV translators were attempting to answer that call. We actually betray their legacy when we insist that no one else be permitted to do precisely what they said they were doing:

    We never thought from the beginning that we should need to make a new translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one… but to make a good one better.

  26. Dr. Mark. Thank you for writing your article. I do agree that KJVO folks often tend to go over the top in their arguments for the KJV. When I first heard about the readability test results from a KJVO source I scratched my head. Because that just seemed strange to me. Of course the KJV is harder to read. But, as with anything, there is nuance and computers results are dependent on what they are testing.

    I did not grow up on the KJV (I didn’t even grow up Christian). I came to the faith in my 20s and began using the NIV, then switched to the ESV after a few years. However, within the last 2 years I’ve been using the KJV. While I learned about and studied textual criticism in seminary, my post-graduate studies led me to being convinced that the Textus Receptus is a superior textual base to anything else. That of course is a much longer discussion to have and not the point of your post here.

    I do lament that there is not a good modern update to the KJV. The NKJV isn’t bad, but I disagree with some of it’s translation decisions. That being said, if someone just can’t get a handle on the the KJV, I would have no problem with them using the NKJV. While I do prefer the KJV, I’m definitely not KJVO. My issue is primarily with the textual base.

    I would disagree with you on some things you said though. You have repeatedly used the argument that the Greek of the NT was “Koine” Greek and because of that it was “common” everyday Greek. That is actually a misunderstanding of the term “Koine”. Yes, it does mean “common”, but that is compared to the older classical Greek. Koine Greek was not “street” Greek. It was just the Greek of the 1st century. It could be formal and complicated or it could be simple and rough depending on the skill and style of the author. Anyone who has read the New Testament in Greek (or other Koine literature) knows that some books are more difficult than others. Luke is a lot harder to read than John, yet both were written in “Common”/Koine Greek. Why are they different? Because Luke and John wrote with different levels of style and complexity. Just as modern authors can with the English language. The Old Testament is the same way. Prose passages are often very simple, but poetry is often very difficult and complicated.

    The KJV is difficult for more modern readers. Anyone who denies that is absurd. But, I do find that the difficulty argument by folks like yourself is often vastly overstated. A vast, vast majority of the KJV is not hard to understand. Yes, there are a several passages that are awkward and take a little work to understand. And many of those just take getting used to the style of the KJV and fix themselves after a few weeks of daily reading. Now, what about the few passages that are difficult after that? Articles like this will quote or reference those few passages that are difficult to make it seem like the KJV is just plain unintelligible to a modern reader. I’ve actually been told by college educated individuals that they just can’t understand the KJV. Either they didn’t get their money’s worth at school or they have never opened a KJV before. Are there difficult passages? No doubt. And after a little work, those difficult passages can be understood. But the KJV is hardly unintelligible. Not that you were making that argument, but many read articles like this and use them as justification to taint the argument in that manner. At the same time, we can’t forget that modern translations have difficult and awkward passages too as well “archaic” words that sometimes are actually easier to understand in the KJV. For example, 2 Kings 2:23 in the ESV says, “He went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him…” What does “jeer” mean? Who uses that word anymore? Wouldn’t it have been better to say they “mocked” him? Which is what the KJV and the NASB uses.

    Now, does any of this mean the KJV shouldn’t be updated? Of course not. I hope one day it will be. But until then, I’m going to use a translation that has stood the test of time and uses a superior textual base. Thank you and God bless.

  27. William, thanks for the graciously worded comment.

    Please do read my book, Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible, when it comes out later this year. I’d value your opinion on its contents.

    A few comments:

    1. I fully acknowledge (and I do so in the book) that Luke and Acts and Hebrews are more difficult, “higher” Greek than Mark and 1 John are. But each is recognizably first-century Greek, not 4th-century B.C. Greek. I support making Luke and Acts and Hebrews more difficult in English than Mark and 1 John, but I don’t support making them sound like the English of four (and more—the KJV is a revision of the 1568 Bishop’s Bible) centuries ago. The Bible ought to be translated into the language of today. God did not say, “Thou shalt not kill”; he said, “You shall not murder.”

    2. I thought as you did for a long time: the KJV just takes a little getting used to. But as my knowledge of Greek, Hebrew, and English grew in seminary, I began to perceive more and more little things I was missing in my beloved KJV. They’re almost all little things, like the word “halt” in 1 Kings 18:21, but then most of the Bible is little things. Statistically speaking, most of the words in Scripture are the “mint, anise, and cummin” of the law. I don’t care to deny that the key verses, the doctrinal statements, the references that make it into systematic theologies are mostly understandable in the KJV. But see point 1.

    3. I personally think “jeer” is as understandable as “mock,” but if we want to play the count-the-archaic-or-difficult-words game, I think the KJV will not win. =) I also don’t think all difficulties should be removed from Scripture, just the unnecessary ones, like archaic words and sentence structures no one uses any more, like the absence of standard punctuation marks and the presence of punctuation conventions we don’t use anymore, etc.

    If you prefer the TR, I really don’t mind. Just get/make a translation of the TR into contemporary English that I can understand. I’d urge you to reconsider the NKJV—or take a look at the MEV. Do this for the sake of your kids and your hearers when you preach or evangelize. Or here’s an idea: you’re an educated person; make an appeal to Crossway to make a “TR” version of the ESV. They actually have already done something like this for the Gideons.

  28. Dr. Mark, Thank you for your reply. From my perspective, the issue of Bible translation and publishing is a very complicated situation. There’s more going on than just what is the best way to translate a passage. But to address your comments.

    1. As I said, I’m not opposed to an updated KJV. The NKJV and MEV are both decent works. The MEV suffers from a deficient marketing and publishing source, so is largely unknown. The NKJV, as I said before, is okay, but makes some translational decisions that I am not in favor of. And to address your point regarding the 6th commandment, I both agree and disagree. One of the advantages of the KJV is actually one of its most maligned features, the use of thee and thou. And interesting unknown fact is that thee and thou are not from 17th century English. Those words had already dropped out of common usage over a century earlier. They KJV used them not because they were the common way of speaking, but because of precision. The Hebrew & Greek distinguish between singular and plural “you”, so the KJV translators used an (already) “archaic” form to show that distinction in translation. In that sense, the KJV was already “archaic” the day it was published. So, the KJV is in fact more accurate in that sense than any modern Bible (except the original NASB, which is out of print). Now, does that mean we have to use thee and thou today, no. We could use “y’all” or something like that. or even just a superscript (s) or (p). Modern English doesn’t have the capability of doing this, so we must use alternative conventions. Either using “archaic” forms like the KJV or something else.

    2. Regarding things like your issue with 1 Kg 18:21. Is the nuance of the original language lost by using a term like “halt”? Perhaps. The meaning is clear though. They are being indecisive and not picking a side. But, losing nuance often occurs in translations. In Hebrew, getting angry is rendered literally as someone’s nose is red. How should that be rendered? Fuming perhaps would convey similar imagery, someone’s temperature is rising because of anger. But, it’s not the exact same imagery. Much is lost in translation and that’s why pastors should know the original languages. That way they can point things out. Like the word play between Adam and Eve being naked and the serpent being “crafty” (the terms sound similar in Hebrew). How do you get that across? Do you leave it be and allow commentaries and study bibles to explain it? Do you put a footnote? If so, where do you draw the line on which ones to explain and which ones to not? At some point you need to let it be and leave further explanation to commentators and other resources. But to reinforce my original point. The KJV is not unintelligible. Are there difficult constructions? Sure, but by looking at the context and through study it can be understood.

    3. My point wasn’t to have a contest between who has more “archiac” or difficult terms. My point was to show that modern Bibles use obscure words too, so the argument doesn’t carry as much weight as many think. Every single “archiac” word in the KJV can be found in a modern English dictionary. And today with google, can be found instantaneously. So, perhaps instead of harping on the KJV for using obscure words, we should be teaching our congregants how to use a dictionary instead to improve their vocabulary? There are a lot of words used in modern Bibles that are difficult. “Propitiation” is a word used in the ESV. That is not a common word at all. I actually had never heard of it until I read it in Scripture. So, I looked it up in the dictionary and discovered its meaning. Should we follow the NIV and use “atoning sacrifice” or encourage people to use a dictionary? The Trinitarian Bible Society actually publishes editions of the KJV that have footnotes with definitions or synonyms for obscure and older terms. That solves the problem of “archaic” terms in a much cheaper fashion without the need for a new translation and helps improve people’s vocabulary at the same time.

    4. Myself and others have contacted Crossway about making the TR-ESV publicly available and they have refused. My assumption is there is some sort of deal with the Gideons that would prevent it. However, I have issues with the TR-ESV because while they have included the long ending of Mark and other passages, they still remove passages like 1 John 5:7 and they do it without even a footnote. As I said in my previous post, I have other reasons why I prefer the TR as a textual base and that of course includes controversial passages like the comma.

    5. For me it comes down to this. Are we modern Christians better off having dozens and dozens of different English translation than our grandparents were? I don’t think so. One, while I lament very much the language of KJVO guys towards modern translations, the language of many against the KJV is equally outrageous. A Bible our grandparents grew up with and used all their lives we are now telling them they can’t trust it because of all its supposed mistakes. That is a very dangerous way of putting things. I’m not saying you have said that, I haven’t read much on your blog yet, but that is often the way it is said by those who support modern versions and the critical text. The KJV is still by far the most used Bible and most of those who use it have done so all their lives. To disparage a Bible that has been used and trusted by Christians for 400 years is not right. What does that say about English speaking Christianity for the last 400 years? I hope your book addresses that issue with pastoral care and concern. Personally, I think having a church where 3 or 4 or 10 different Bibles are used by the congregation is a huge concern. Can we gain greater insight into things by having a translation that words things a little differently than others? Sure, but at what cost? Bible publishing is now big business. Companies have an incentive to put out a new version every couple of years. They change a few words here and there (enough that it can become a separate copyright) and market it as the lastest and most up to date edition of the Bible. People buy a bunch of copies and try it out and after a little while, most return to their old version…until the next one comes out. That’s one of the reasons why I don’t think an updated KJV will ever take off today. We’ve been so damaged by modern bible publishing that it will never take off. Personally, I think we need to just shut down Bible publishing for the next 100 years. Even assuming that the critical text theory is correct, we don’t need a new version. The ESV, NASB, even the NIV are good enough to last the next few hundred years like the KJV. The English language doesn’t change that fast. Of course, that will never happen. I don’t know what the solution is, but I know that if this keeps up it will just lead to more problems.

    Again, thank you for your reply and God bless.

  29. 1. You just GOTTA read my book. I tackle this directly. Two small comments: how do you know the motivation of the KJV translators in retaining thee and ye? And how often does the failure of modern English to distinguish between plural and singular you trip you up in writing and in speech—that is, how often is context an insufficient guide to good interpretation?

    2. I wouldn’t call “stop” vs. “limp” a nuance. It’s one or the other. No doubt many nuances are lost in all translations (and some are necessarily added!), but it’s my contention in Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible that using an archaic form of English introduces unnecessary losses. There are places—I often think of Col 2:23b—where I really cannot make head or tail of the KJV, and I’m not blaming the translators. I just don’t speak their version of the language.

    3. I tackle this directly in the book. If I haven’t already mentioned it, you gotta read it. =)

    4. Very interesting. Would you be willing to share your correspondence with Crossway privately with me (use my contact page if you would)?

    5. We don’t really have dozens of translations. Practically speaking among evangelicals we have the KJV, NKJV, NET, CSB, NIV, ESV, NASB, NLT, and a few outliers like the Amplified Bible and (a paraphrase like) the Message. And, actually, I would say that I regularly receive benefit from reading/checking all these translations. I don’t see them as a threat but as a resource, an embarrassment of riches. And the dark warnings of the KJV-Only folks that these translations will bring confusion just haven’t been true in my experience.

    But your comment about telling people they can’t trust the KJV because of its mistakes is spot-on. I studiously avoid criticizing the KJV. There’s no point. It won’t win me any hearers, and I don’t actually think the KJV has all that much to criticize. It was a great translation in its day. Also, I want to be careful with the faith of laypeople. My book (did I mention you gotta read it?) promises that I will write “without saying one negative word about the quality of the KJV or the decisions of its translators.” And I fulfill that promise.

    Nonetheless, I think language changes faster than every 100 years, and I’d suggest a great book I’m reading right now to help you see what I mean: John McWhorter’s Words on the Move: Why English Won’t—and Can’t—Sit Still (Like, Literally). I love McWhorter. He knows language, and he’s so irrepressibly excited about it that you can’t help but be swept along.

    I do have a very different assessment of the effects of multiple translations in churches. Except in low-income places where educational levels are low, I think the presence of multiple translations is most definitely a help far more often than it’s a hindrance. That’s a longer discussion, but all I can say is that in my own experience, 1) I get more out of the Bible by reading it in multiple translations (here’s a simple example) and 2) I’ve been in churches for the last twenty years which used multiple translations and I’ve never seen them cause a problem. If anything, they’ve created a few valuable teaching moments.

    The KJV was once a vernacular translation (or at least much, much closer to one); it is no longer. We need to put vernacular translations in people’s hands.

  30. Thank you again for your reply. I hope I haven’t given the wrong impression by my comments. I’ve often noticed that my zeal for defending the usability of the KJV today comes across a little strong. I do agree with you that there is value in multiple translations. It can be a great help explaining difficult passages to look at it in different versions. However, that can just as easily be accomplished with a good study bible or a commentary. The advantages gained by the variations among the translations were already available in other works. Is one way better than the other? Personally, I would say the costs outweigh the benefits, but I acknowledge that just my own personal opinion. Obviously the genie is out of the bottle, so we are never going back to a single English translation anytime soon. I’m not under the illusion that the KJV will ever be in the same place it was 100 years ago. No matter how many folks like me wish we could, it just isn’t going to happen.

    As I said, I do agree that an update to the KJV is needed. I don’t think the NKJV is it though. It’s a good translation, but not good enough to sufficiently replace it IMO. Much of the majesty and style of the KJV is lost with the NKJV. Even things like the uncommon punctuation. Which, when you learn why they did that it makes a whole lot more sense. The punctuation was designed for public speaking. So, by following the rhythm of those marks, it not only gives the reader helps for when to pause, take a breath, change tone of voice, etc. By doing so, it gives the KJV a lyrical quality when publicly read. That is not something that any other translation has and is not even seen as important anymore.

    In the past, a church service would have a large quantity of Scripture publicly read. A chapter from the OT, a chapter from the NT, the sermon text, as well as other verses and passages here and there. That just doesn’t happen in your average evangelical church today. Even in more liturgical churches it is not as common. If they read Scripture from a lectionary, it is a very small passage. But it wasn’t just liturgical churches that did it, almost all churches did, no matter the denomination. Of course, back then, a large portion of the congregation couldn’t read, so they needed it to be read to them. However, when you look at statistics today, despite how often we encourage people, most Christians don’t read Scripture at home. They have a dozen Bibles in the home, but they are rarely if ever opened. Most Christians despite being literate only “read” the Bible during church. So, 1: churches should read more Scripture in church and 2: a translation that seeks to aid in that is advantageous. That doesn’t mean you can’t read a modern version publicly, of course you can. It’s just the KJV has a feature that is designed for it and many don’t even realize it.

    As far as thee and thou, we are talking about Scripture, where even jots and tittles matter. And yes, it can be misunderstood in English, which is why southerners use “y’all” and even “all y’all” for clarity. I’ll give a Scriptural example where it actually matters, Luke 22:31-32.

    ESV, “31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.””

    Who is the you? Peter or all the disciples? Now, I’ll quote the KJV.

    KJV “31 And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: 32 But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.”

    Jesus is speaking to Peter. Satan desires who? Not Peter, the you is plural. It is all the disciples. But, Jesus is praying for who? Peter, the thee is singular. He is praying that Peter’s faith doesn’t fail. Now, is it possible to understand that nuance with a modern translation? Possibly, but it is immediately clear what is being said with the KJV. And like I said, thee and thou had dropped out of common usage at least 100 years earlier. So, the KJV translators deliberately brought it back for the sake of clarity. Or it would probably be more accurate to say they continued the tradition of the previous translations. And this is something even the NASB translators recognized as important, which is why they kept them in the 1st edition, though the editors of the 1995 update didn’t and removed them. Even the lack of quotation marks is important as it is not always clear when a quote ends. For example, compare Mark 7:19 in the KJV and the ESV. Is the last phrase part of the quote or is it a parenthetical comment?

    I will conclude with this, my defense of the KJV’s translation philosophy and its style is actually a lower priority for me personally. The primary issue for me is the underlying Greek and Hebrew. There are a lot of problems with modern textual criticism and IMO the constant publication of new versions is related. Just as a new edition of the NA/UBS text comes out every few years, so does a new English version. There is also the profit motive involved and the fact that Bible publishers are not controlled by the church as well. Suffice to say, there is a lot of problems.

    Has good come from modern translations? Sure, I don’t deny that at all. I just think the cost was too high, especially with the loss of all the passages that are edited out (or relegated to footnotes) due to modern textual criticism. My defense of the usability of the KJV today is primarily due to the often outrageous and over the top comments from those critical of the KJV. That the KJV is in middle English and indecipherable or something along those lines. Will the KJV ever be where it was before? I highly doubt it, but it’s still got some life left in it. And until a modern translation of the Received Text comes along that matches (or surpasses) the KJV in style, translation philosophy, and beauty, I’ll stick to the KJV and encourage others to do the same.

    Thank you again for this interaction. I’ll try to find your book and read it if I have time. God bless.

    And I apologize, but I don’t think I have the reply from Crossway anymore. If I recall, they simply said they had no plans to sell it or something similar to that.

  31. 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, 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? Is the laborer worthy of his hire? 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 (your word) 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.

    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 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.

  32. Dr. Mark, I appreciate your emotion and passion on this topic. Don’t feel bad about challenging me especially if I say something that bothers you. I want to be challenged and have the logs and specks in my eyes pointed out. Forgive me if my judgment sounded harsh. My critique is against the industry overall and not necessarily against any individual translator or publisher.

    That being said, profit is a motive, whether it’s a large one or not. Pastors and seminary professors are usually not paid well and getting a check for translation work is completely understandable. If offered, I would probably take the opportunity myself. I have a family to feed and so do they. Everyone has different motivations. However, the fact that you can find a “study” Bible for [insert your niche subgroup] shows that profit motive is a factor. I never said it was the primary factor, but it would be naive to say it’s not a factor at all. We moderns suffer from a desire to always have something fresh and new. And so we end up nitpicking translations and finding fault with this verse or that verse and use that as justification for a whole new translation. Rather than just being okay with something that is a legitimate translation, but has a few places where we don’t like the way it’s worded. But, since translations are copyrighted, they can’t just change a few things from another translation. They have to make it different enough that it justifies a new copyright. Otherwise they’d have to pay royalties. And that results in changes to other things that people don’t like and it starts the cycle over. The system is the problem. (not that copyrights are bad, it’s just that in this case it leads to problems). Which is one of major problems with Crossway. I think Crossway has done a great job overall as a publisher (both of books and the Bible), but they made a terrible decision when it came to the ESV. By being a revision of the RSV, they had to pay the National Council of Churches a very large sum of money. Money that actually helped keep the NCC solvent during a time when they were pretty much bankrupt. Just because they are brothers in Christ, that doesn’t mean they can’t make bad decisions.

    Regarding punctuation. Like I said, earlier, the punctuation is an aid, it doesn’t mean it is not possible to read it publicly without them. But they do help. The fact that people don’t know their purpose is the fault of those in the know not teaching them. Same as the purpose for thee and thou. Some even KJVO guys don’t know that they distinguish between singular and plural.

    Regarding thee and thou, I do not have documentation on why they retained them. What I do know is that thee and thou was not commonly used in speech in 1611 as it had dropped out of usage at least a century earlier. So they deliberately didn’t change it to “common” speech. Why? Because it would result in a lack of precision and was unnecessary because people knew what it meant.

    I’m sorry to hear about folks treating you that way over capitalized pronouns. That’s actually one of my problems with the NKJV. I don’t like that they are capitalized. It isn’t always clear in the original language, so it can result in problems when a modern editor decides it for you.

    Regarding having multiple translations in a church. The problem is it results in a lack of unity. I agree that it can spark conversations about why one translation did one thing vs another. Even the KJV has alternate renderings in the margin in many places. But like many things, the costs outweigh the benefits. Is it that big of a deal that they can’t follow word for word with my reading of it? No, of course not. The problem for me again comes back to the underlying text. When I read a verse that is not in their Bibles, what is that saying to the people? When Pastors do talk about textual criticism, that doesn’t truly build confidence in Scripture. It can minimize doubts, but it doesn’t address the problem. How do you know that a verse is truly Scripture. After all (assuming modern textual criticism is true) Christians thought the long ending of Mark was Scripture for 1800 years. Who’s to say we can’t be wrong about other ones? Well, we have more evidence now, so we have a reasonable certainty that what is Scripture. Reasonable certainty doesn’t cut it when we are talking about the Word of God. The Spirit decides what is Scripture, not man.

    But, that’s getting into the textual criticism side of things and I’d prefer not to debate that in a format like this. It is a very long topic and not one that is conducive to this way of discussion.

    Brother, I do pray that God would bless your efforts. Though we disagree on this topic I don’t doubt your sincerity and desire for truth. Forgive me if I’ve offended you with anything I’ve said. God bless.

  33. William, what a gracious reply! I do not believe you were harsh, and boy do I thank the Lord for anyone in the world who wants specks and logs to be taken out of his eye! I want to be that person, too. Thank you again. I think we’ve talked this one out sufficiently for our purposes—and I would very much value your thoughts on my new Lexham Press book when it comes out. Very much.

  34. I’d like to point out something that William has suggested here but Mark hasn’t commented on…

    The word “y’all” in my experience is not a plural term anymore than “you” is in proper English. (I know, Mark, usage and all that…) “Y’all” can be either singular or plural. Let’s not suggest it as a solution to the ambiguity of “you” in proper modern English.

    Maranatha!
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

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