One of The Most Profound Things Any Reader Has Said to Me After Reading My Book

A reader of Authorized wrote me:

I have found it interesting on the topic of italicized words in the KJV to notice the difference in the number of italicized words in the “original” 1611 KJV and the KJV of today. Using Mark 5 for instance, I believe the count is something like 20 in today’s KJV and 6 in the 1611 KJV (two of which are not even italicized in today’s KJV…“Talitha cumi”).

I responded:

As far as italics go, I felt like I never heard anyone give the other side, the “cons” of italics. And I began to feel like none of the “pros” I always heard were really pros.

One of the most profound things any reader has said to me after reading my book was this: “If my over-arching goal is to understand what God said, it changes everything in the versions debate.”

Loyalty to italics privileges “accuracy”—as sort of a disembodied reality—over understanding.

I’ll add: for every claim I’ve heard that the italics (in any Bible translation, not just the KJV) are beneficial, I hear zero stories showing that they aid understanding. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be there; not at all. Because I read Greek and Hebrew, I find them beneficial every once in a while.

But what are the italics doing there if they’re only helping scholars, and only helping them every once in a while? What they seem to do is make some lay readers feel safer, more confident that the translators aren’t putting one over on them. And that’s a bad place to be when reading a Bible translation. Simply put, all Christians—even Bible translators—have to trust other Christians when they read the Bible in translation. No one is such an expert that he or she can do without any help from others. Even the people who can read Greek and Hebrew and Aramaic fluently rely on specialized studies from scholars who’ve studied individual words.

If the very nature of the Bible is such that almost all Christians have to read it in translation (because very few people are fluent in all the biblical languages), and if the Bible never warns us to watch out for “bad” translations, and if the KJV translators themselves draw attention to the poor quality of the Septuagint translation (and they do in their preface) and yet the NT authors used it, maybe we can all lighten up a bit and be open rather than skeptical when evangelicalism’s top experts make and endorse a Bible translation.

Indeed, we have good reasons to trust our Bible translators; they’re not trying to adulterate the Word. These are the same people who are teaching in our best seminaries, writing our best books, and offering the best defenses of sound doctrines like inerrancy.

One of the most important messages I can send out to the faithful Christians filling church pews is that all the major evangelical English Bible translations are trustworthy.* There is no conspiracy to mistranslate or remove or obfuscate God’s words. I can disagree with individual translation decisions in all of the existing English Bible translations and yet say with confidence that they are all trustworthy, and all excellent tools for understanding God’s words.

The balance is off when we care more about having the words of God than about understanding them—like a kid who doesn’t follow baseball but wants to collect every last card for the 2003 Mets roster.

*I have far less expertise in Catholic and mainline Protestant translations, but in my experience it’s hard to really mess up a Bible translation unless you do so on purpose (I’m looking at you, New World Translation). If all we had were the New American Bible (Catholic) or the Common English Bible (Mainline Protestant), I think we’d still have reason to be incredibly grateful.

A Few Lessons I Learned about Learning

I recently had occasion to reflect on what I concluded about teaching from my own years sitting under it. As I enter more teaching roles, I have to ask myself, “What makes for good learning?”

  1. Learning is ultimately a mystery, because so little of what I do, so little of what I think I know, is traceable to “aha” moments. Nonetheless, teachers who applied appropriate methods really were more effective, particularly when it came to writing tests. Just because learning is a mystery doesn’t mean there’s no connection between the skill of a teacher and the learning outcomes of his or her students.
  2. Instead of aha moments, my education was, I think, a long initiation into a conversation that started long before I came along and will continue long after I’m gone. The initiation taught me the kinds of arguments and evidences that count as contributions. It taught me which voices were most important in that conversation both now and in the past. It also taught me where to go to look for their contributions. I know intuitively when someone is playing by the “rules” of the biblical studies game—but only because I listened and listened and listened for years. I’ll add that listening to the expositions of my long-time pastor, who was himself “in the game,” also had an immeasurably impact on me.
  3. A lot of things I was taught—and faithfully regurgitated for tests—didn’t really sink in until later, sometimes years later. As I began to see this, I began to think that education is about building connections among the things one learns at the base of Blooom’s taxonomy (1. remember, 2. understand). Peers played a key role here: friends who had made those connections slightly before I was able to were able to lead me to see them because they could easily remember what it was like not to know them. The “curse of knowledge” made it difficult for some teachers to bring me along at points. They couldn’t remember what it was like to be as ignorant as I was!
  4. Back to writing tests: I did feel that the teachers who had clear ideas of what kinds of skills I needed by the end of the course were better at measuring the outcome of their instruction. And those who worked up the ladder of Bloom’s taxonomy rather than staying on the lowest rung were better, too. Thankfully, I had a lot of good teachers.
  5. I do think that D.A. Carson was right when he said his students don’t remember what he taught them so much as what he was excited about. Therefore, I am certain that my students in the future will remember things about my wife, KJV-Onlyism, Stanley Fish, and ultimate frisbee.

Endorsements for Authorized

My new book is out today in print and digital formats.

I’ve been trying to pick a moment when it was “born”… Was it when my favorite seminary professor said, “You prefer the Textus Receptus? Fine. Make a new translation of it”? Was it when my long-time pastor called the KJV an “impediment” to Bible study? Was it when I watched thousands of kids at a Christian camp memorize a verse I knew they didn’t understand? Yes, it was all those things. But the one moment when the real kernel of the book crystalized in my mind was when I realized that the word “halt” in 1 Kings 18:21 meant something different than I had always assumed. I quickly discovered that other long-time KJV readers had made the same perfectly natural mistake. I stumbled onto the concept of “false friends,” and then I started to see them pretty much any time I read a KJV passage of any length. This was something the Christian world needed to know about.

A few other links of interest:

Endorsements

Here are some trusted names in the area of Bible translation who saw at least some value in the book. Regular readers of this blog will be shocked to find that several of them noticed humor in my writing; I really broke the mold to write this book. was shocked to get these endorsements. I’m grateful to the Lord and to these men.

*  *  *

“This lightly written and frequently amusing book gently hides the competent scholarship that underlies it. For those who are convinced of the superiority of the KJV, whether for stylistic, cultural, pedagogical, theological, or traditional reasons, this is the book to read. Mercifully, Dr. Ward does not pummel his readers or sneer at those who take another position. Patiently, chapter by chapter, example by example, he makes his case—all of his work geared toward fostering more and better Bible reading. Highly recommended.”

D. A. Carson, research professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, IL)

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“Mark Ward’s Authorized: the Use and Misuse of the King James Bible is a very cogent, concise, clear, and helpful book on the subject of Bible translations. It is full of information about how language changes and doesn’t change, and it is full of wisdom about how Christians should respond to these processes. Ward argues that we should find virtue both in the old and the new, both in ‘formal’ translations and in ‘functional’ ones. His argument is firmly based in the presupposition that Scripture is God’s word, and that we need it for our salvation and for living the Christian life. And he follows his own advice: he writes in the vernacular—to contemporary readers, in an ‘I-you’ dialogue. So the book is useful, both for beginning Bible students and for linguists. Particularly, it has the potential to gentle our arguments about translations, to reconcile factions, and, to that extent, to unify the church.”

John Frame, Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy Emeritus, Reformed Theological Seminary (Orlando)

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“This is hands down the most interesting, educating, delightful and understandable work that I’ve read on the question of which English Bible translation to use. In addition to being factually accurate, it’s unusually balanced. I found the first chapter, on potential losses from jettisoning the KJV, to be as compelling in its arguments as the chapters following and making the case for multiplying translations. It’s charitable—I can’t imagine any reader, no matter what his position on the issue, feeling abused or slighted. And it’s pleasurable—rarely the case with an academic work. But truly, this one’s a page-turner.”

Mark Minnick, Associate Professor of New Testament Studies and Church Ministries, Bob Jones Seminary; senior pastor, Mount Calvary Baptist Church (Greenville, SC)

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“Mark Ward’s book on the King James Version is first of all a delightful book to read. I had a hard time putting it down once I started it. Another virtue of the book is that Ward grew up loving the KJV, and thus we have a friendly criticism of its use today instead of an attack from an outsider. Ward is convincing in arguing that the KJV should not be one’s primary Bible today since it is too antiquated for contemporary readers. In fact, he shows that the KJV translators would agree with that assessment, for they were excellent scholars who desired to translate the Bible into the vernacular. As Ward says, there is no need to dispense with the KJV altogether, and the best practice is to use a number of translations, and thankfully we are blessed with many fine English translations today.”

Tom Schreiner, professor of New Testament interpretation, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, KY)

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“Ward combines good writing and common sense to explain why English speakers today should both appreciate the KJV and benefit from excellent modern translations.”

Andrew David Naselli, associate professor of New Testament and theology, Bethlehem College & Seminary (Minneapolis)

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“Just because you know all of the words in an old sentence of English doesn’t mean you know what they meant when they were written. Mark Ward shows us, with a light but authoritative touch, that if we want the Bible to speak to us the way it did to those alive when it was written, we must adjust the vocabulary with meanings only scholars can make out—a revelation of a new kind.”

John McWhorter, associate professor of linguistics, Columbia University; host of the Slate podcast Lexicon Valley

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“This volume by Mark Ward is everything a book should be that deals with a controversial topic like the abiding value of the King James Version. It is engaging, readable, often humorous, and clever in its arguments. Most importantly, it is accurate in its facts, balanced in its presentation, and irenic in tone. I would highly recommend it not only for those involved in the KJV-only debate, but for anyone with an interest in Bible translation.”

Mark L. Strauss, university professor of New Testament, Bethel Seminary San Diego

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“Can anything useful still be said on the use of the King James Version? Yes, and Mark Ward has said it. Mark focuses on those gaps between Elizabethan and contemporary English that are hard to spot and therefore cause confusion for today’s readers. He writes with compassion, humility, sympathy, clarity, and good humor about a topic that can still spark heated arguments. Authorized makes a contribution, even if a late one, to discussion by avoiding the topic of Koine Greek textual criticism and focusing on something every reader of the KJV is supposed to know: English.”

Kevin Bauder, Research Professor of Systematic Theology, Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Minneapolis)

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“Authorized is a little book that packs a punch. It deals with a common issue in a helpful, humorous, and respectful way. It is worthy of any Christian’s time.”

Tim Challies, author and blogger

Condoms and Consent

Mark Regnerus in Public Discourse:

Saying that it’s all on men to change their behavior may signal progressive virtue online, but it will do little to diminish real-life grief. The realities of sexual exchange will not disappear and cannot be eviscerated by fiat or reformed by speech rules. And eventually, the social media shaming will come to an end. Then what?

Regnerus suggests establishing and/or reinforcing cultural norms, clear “no-fly” zones in which men know not to make a pass and women insist on the boundaries.

I have a two-part suggestion for my fellow members of the XY chromosome club, one that comes from the inventor of sex: 1) marriage is a “fly zone”; 2) every other situation is not.

Rachel Lu shows through her experience in the Peace Corps that the progressive liberal method of chucking abstinence before marriage and boiling the norms down to condoms and consent still puts women (especially women, but not only women) in danger:

If you’re accustomed to thinking of Hollywood as a cesspool of sin and vice, you may not find [the revelations about Harvey Weinstein, et al.] surprising. Many were surprised, though. Progressives assume that their own mores protect and affirm women while the traditionalists objectify and repress. It’s worth thinking through the logic of a libertine environment, to see how mistaken this reasoning may be.

Traditional sinners and progressive ones can both objectify and repress women; there are ditches on both sides of the highway. But which worldview best protects and affirms them? I believe it is the one that says they’re made in the image of God, just like men, and that their sexuality is a precious gift meant for their husbands alone (Prov 5:15–19). My wife and I have talked this over extensively: we see clearly that biblical guardrails shaped our singleness toward the happy marriage we now enjoy. We are so grateful that the fly and no-fly zones were clear—and were reinforced by our Christian communities.

Lu shows the mistakenness in the progressive worldview by describing what it was like as a conservative Mormon to be in a libertine environment, the Peace Corps of the early 2000s.

In the absence of a more elevated sexual ethic, baser realities tend to assert themselves. No social engineering can really change the fact that men have a higher sex drive than women, while women remain more vulnerable in sexual encounters. Any sane response to this will demand that men take reasonable steps to discipline themselves, and women to protect themselves. Society at large should support both efforts, while providing especially strong protections for children, the most vulnerable of all. Obviously there is much room here for debating what is “reasonable,” but if we reject even that broad framework, we inevitably set the stage for uncomfortable professional and social dynamics, which may also facilitate more-serious forms of sexual predation.

And she makes this very important point:

“Consent” offers at least some standard of behavior as a lowest common denominator that no decent person can reject. That principle is grossly inadequate, though, for grounding a healthy sexual dynamic. Rape, after all, is not the only form of sexual misbehavior. If it’s the only one we discourage, we’re likely to end up with more rapists.

I love my liberal neighbor, and I want to ask him or her, are you sure that your sexual ethic is leading to human flourishing? Are any partisans for the sexual revolution out there engaging in any true soul-searching, or are they going to pin the Weinsteinian downfalls on a few bad apples? Perhaps the apples are rotten because the tree is—but God is in the business of replanting people. Repent and believe.

Thanks for Praying

I talked with John McWhorter this morning for about 45 minutes to record an episode of Lexicon Valley focused on my new book, Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible. I’m an even bigger fan of the guy after this experience; I’m still both shocked and over the moon that he’d pick up a book by a no-name Christian author and actually read it. He did, as his interview questions prove, and he totally got it, as I knew he would. I encourage you to sign up for his podcast, as I have done since before he even came on the show. I still think that good Bible interpretation has a lot to do with being sensitive to the way language works. McWhorter makes that kind of learning go down as easily as possible.

A few of you prayed that I’d have discretion and wisdom as I spoke. I feel as if the Lord answered our prayers with a yes, but you be the judge: the episode in which I appear should be released next Tuesday around noon Eastern time.

(Note: though McWhorter does occasionally discuss—I didn’t say “use”—explicit language, he does so in what I’d consider an appropriate way given the linguistics focus of his entertaining and nerdy show. And warnings occur before those episodes. Cf. Phil 3:8.)

Pre-order Authorized now at Amazon or Lexham/Logos; the price may change after the book releases in January.