Skip to content

Proof of what is unseen

Fish on Facebook and Free Speech

Mark Ward

Free speech issues have made the news recently as political tensions rise—along with distrust in and fatigue with social media.

No one has helped me understand the issues at stake better than Stanley Fish. His Winning Arguments is very helpful, and this article from Fish on Mark Zuckerberg may whet your appetite for more Fish.

And if you need help appropriating Fish into a Christian framework, I’m your redheaded man.

Join the Conversation

Bible Study Magazine Podcast Launches Today

Mark Ward

Faithlife’s brand new Bible Study Magazine podcast, hosted by yours truly, launches today.



​The first season of twelve episodes (four available today; one released per week after this) is focused on how to achieve and promote biblical literacy.

In the first episode, I talk to Kevin Vanhoozer about biblical illiteracy—and I manage to sneak in a reference to Stanley Fish.

Other episodes talk about the story of the Bible, canon, textual criticism, and other topics relevant to biblical literacy. My guests include Vern Poythress, Leland Ryken, Trevin Wax, Wendy Widder, Peter Gurry, and others.



(Just so you know: they didn’t tell me they were doing a photo shoot, and I don’t normally wear hats to work. I’m not that cool.)

Join the Conversation

It Happened Again with the KJV

Mark Ward

I’m almost done with a year-long project writing a BJU Press Bible textbook on biblical worldview for sixth graders. I needed to quote a verse that helps them understand that Christians are called to live lives of practical good works for their neighbors. I turned to Titus 3:14. Here it is in the English Standard Version:

And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.

This comes in a list of short instructions. There isn’t really much immediate context to help us know what this means. It stands more or less on its own.

But I think I get it:

1. Christian people under Titus’ care should be told to dedicate themselves to doing good.

2. They’re supposed to look for cases of urgent need.

3. This way they can avoid being unfruitful.

Got all that?

Now what can you get out of the Elizabethan English of the King James Version? Same verse:

And let ours also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses, that they be not unfruitful.

1. Who is “ours”? I think this is a little difficult or obscure, but it’s not impossible. The KJV translators are being fastidious here in their literality, a wholly defensible choice. There is no word “people” in the Greek. But, then again, it is clearly implied. It is therefore equally defensible to “add” it. I have little sense (no one alive does) for whether “ours” was natural Koine Greek, or whether Paul could have said, “our people” explicitly. But I have a fairly good sense for what makes for understandable English. The addition of “people”—which all major modern versions make—is clearly helpful and accurate.

If I get past “ours,” I get the rest, though: maintain good works.

2. But what are “necessary uses”? Honestly, I have no idea. I can read Greek, so I can see that this is another literal translation. Sort of. BDAG, the standard Greek-English lexicon, does not list “uses” as one of the glosses for χρεία. The main glosses seem to be “need,” “lack,” or “difficulty.” So I head off to the Oxford English Dictionary to see if “uses” used to mean “needs.” Sure enough, though I had to wade through a seventeen other senses to get to it, sense 18 looks like a good candidate:

But then I just can’t make my mind understand the KJV to be saying what that last 2004 use of use says. I understand that sentence perfectly—“someone…might have great use for a second-hand PC.” But I can’t understand “good works for necessary uses.”

So maybe sense 16 is better?

Hmm. No. The example sentences don’t fit what I think I’m seeing in the KJV. But neither does sense 18. I’m at a loss. I’m not good enough at Elizabethan English to say with certainty what the KJV translators meant here (and, I say humbly, if I’m not good enough, I have to wonder how many other redheaded thirty-somethings in my town are doing any better).

So I don’t know what the KJV translators meant by saying that Christians should “maintain good works for necessary uses,” but I assume based on the Greek and on contemporary translations that they meant they should “devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need.”

3. “That they be not unfruitful” is not the way I would say it today; it’s a bit archaic. But I think I get that just fine. Minimal exposure to KJV English is all I need to understand this phrase.

Repeatedly—not every time, but repeatedly—I come to a verse in the KJV that my gut tells me I can’t quote to sixth graders. They won’t get it. Here, I don’t even get it, so I’m not going to quote it. Edification requires intelligibility (1 Cor 14). So I paraphrased. I missed out on the power that quotation marks provide, indicating as they do that I am citing Scripture quite directly. But I’d rather do that than use words my readers won’t understand.

If with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. (1 Corinthians 14:9 ESV)

Other times I toss in explanations or contemporary glosses in brackets, like the following actual examples from the textbook:

…even his eternal power and Godhead [divinity]. (Rom 1:20)

After that, he was seen [by more than] five hundred brethren at once. (1 Cor 15:6)

The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold [suppress] the truth in unrighteousness. (Romans 1:18)

That which may be known of God is manifest [clear] in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by [through] the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:19–20)

Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations [reasonings], and their foolish heart was darkened. (Rom 1:21)

This is the first and great[est] commandment. (Matthew 22:38 KJV)

All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed [counted] as nothing: and he [God] doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay [stop] his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?” (Daniel 4:35)

I don’t have very many quotations from the KJV in that book of any length that are without brackets. I refuse to give kids Bible quotations they can’t understand. I’m not against their use of the dictionary, of course. But I am against it when it shouldn’t be necessary, when perfectly good contemporary equivalents are available.

Edification requires intelligibility.

Join the Conversation

Four New ESV Editions, Or, How Does Crossway Do It?

Mark Ward

I work for a Christian publisher, and we have made Bibles of various kinds. If you could listen to our internal discussions, you would hear quickly that Crossway sets the standard for Bible publishing. More beautiful typography and more innovative editions have come from Crossway than from any other organization serving the Bible-reading public. The most popular post in the history of my blog is an implicit argument that the ESV’s market share among Bible readers has a lot to do with Crossway’s leadership in beauty and innovation.

Crossway has just come out with four more editions of the English Standard Version, all of them worthwhile and well-executed variations on existing ideas. I say: more makes me merrier. If the market is actually sustaining all these niche editions, that says something good about the market (as long as people are actually using these editions and not just sticking them on shelves—I pray they are).

Let’s take a look at each of the four new ESV editions.


1. The ESV Reader’s Bible, Six-Volume Set, with chapter and verse numbers

I have worked to do my small part to encourage the growth in Reader’s Bibles—and in this new set, the story has taken an unexpected turn I wasn’t sure I would welcome: the return of chapter and verse numbers to so-called “Readers” editions.

But then I saw the volumes.

Unboxing
Unboxed

They’re everything they ought to be. You can’t help but delight in the fine craftsmanship on every level, from the elegant type—Trinité, from the same designer (Bram de Does) who made Lexicon, the face that I fell in love with when Crossway used it the ESV Study Bible—to the beautiful cloth bindings and slipcase, the opening of which slopes backwards a bit so volumes can easily be pulled out. They thought of everything.

I recently pulled out my old Zondervan Comparative Study Bible from the late 1990s. I derived much profit from this edition, but looking at it with eyes formed by years of Crossway Bibles is a negative experience. It’s all function, no form—to the point that the forms harm the function. Every verse is its own paragraph; actual paragraphs of meaning are set off by unhelpful pilcrows (¶); the type is banal; and the Bible smells bad. (Okay, it doesn’t actually smell bad.)

A spread from the Comparative Study Bible, 1999

Crossway has taught us again what we should already have known from Gutenberg and many others over the centuries: beautiful form is a necessary part of the function the Bible ought to play—in a life, and in a culture. How did we descend to the Comparative Study Bible from this?

A page from the Gutenberg Bible

Now if I had to choose between having no Bible and having an ugly one, I’d still treasure that ugly one. And we Protestants don’t (or shouldn’t!) reverence the physical object of the Bible the way Muslims revere the Qur’an.

But truth, goodness, and beauty are friends. No—triplets. No—conjoined triplets. They belong together in God’s world. Crossway knows this. (If you’re wondering where the goodness part comes in, and this is not flattery but truth, Crossway also clearly cares about the mission they have. Good News Publishers, which owns Crossway, is a non-profit that started as a man and his wife publishing gospel tracts.)

A spread in the six-volume Reader’s Bible with chapter and verse nos.

This Bible is essentially the same as the six-volume Reader’s Bible that I reviewed in 2016; it simply adds the numbers back. Each page is still spare and readable—and I love the artful use of red type for headings and drop caps.

If you want a lifelong reading tool but feel you can’t do without the numbers, this Bible is for you.


2. ESV Illuminated Scripture Journal; Old Testament Set

Boxed

Next up: the Illuminated Scripture Journal; Old Testament Set. This is a set of paperback (though the paper covers are reasonably hefty and durable) journals allows you to take copious notes on every page of the Bible.

Once again, beauty is called in to serve its proper role—but this time, beauty is, uh, the conjoined triplet who is determining where the others walk. The hand-lettering in gold ink from Brooklyn artist Dana Tanamachi is nearly overwhelming.

Even more famous international artist Roy G. Biv was asked to provide the colors for the spines of each individual volume.

Unboxed

When you remove the ornate slipcase cover and pull out a volume, you are treated to more ornateness in gold leaf.

Psalms

You are also treated to an empty page for notes paired with every page of the biblical text. All note-taking pages contain a subtle grid of dots to facilitate neat notes. Some also include a little beautiful design.

Others include an instance of Tanamachi’s hand-lettered verse art. It’s hipster and classic at the same time; I’m hoping that means it will feel fresh thirty years from now, too, but I can’t know that.

A fairly normal spread

The back of the beautiful box offers some suggestions for how these journals might be used. Art journaling, writing prayers, Scripture memory, and—here’s what I would have used them for had they been given to me as a college student—taking sermon notes. I would also have used them for writing down my own notes during personal Bible study.

Back of the box

But here’s why I use “would” instead of “will”: I just can’t see myself using these stupendously attractive little volumes upon which such care has been lavished. I am not a paper note-taker. I was in ye olden dayes. I have reams of notes from the top Bible expositor in all of Bootleg Corner, SC.

Sermon notes from a twenty-one-year-old

But the only sermon notes I ever use today are the ones I took electronically—once I got a little Palm Pilot IIIxe. I do use those notes regularly, because they are easily accessible. They contain lots of great exegetical insights and illustrations. But I lack the energy to access my paper notes. They sit forlornly on a shelf. My one attempt to scan them ended in failure.

So this set of Scripture journals is probably a great gift for a young person entering his or her college or seminary years—someone who has already bucked his or her generation by preferring paper. Such people do exist. They need the ESV Illuminated Scripture Journal Old Testament Set.


3. ESV Scripture Journal Set: New Testament (Hardcover)

And such people also need the ESV Scripture Journal New Testament Set.

Boxed
Unboxed

This set is more functional, though still quite aesthetically pleasing. There are no illuminations, but, honestly, that makes them feel more like something I would use in church. They’re not too flashy. They look appropriately serious.

The set includes nineteen little journals laid out the same way the OT set is laid out: Bible page on left, elegantly ruled note-taking page on right.

How precious would it be to have all my Ephesians notes from 1997–2002 in one of these little journals?

The paper is thick and nicely opaque; it has a light and creamy color. The binding on these hard-cover journals lies flat. This set is well done, well done.

Let’s be honest here: you probably aren’t going to take detailed notes on the genealogies of 1 Chronicles 1–9. The minor prophets are probably not going to get the same attention as the Gospels and Paul’s epistles. This does not mean we have a canon within the canon, that Haggai ceases to carry divine authority. If a minor prophet volume from the ESV OT Scripture Journal falls in the forest, and there’s no one there to read it, it is still God’s Word. And Christian people do hear it.

But different portions of God’s revelation are given for different purposes, and it is appropriate that John 3:16 is more commonly known than Esther 3:2. There are “weightier matters of the law,” and John and Romans are it. New Testament books are also given in genres—especially Gospel and epistle—that compacts a lot of truth into short spaces. The narratives of Genesis can do the same: think Genesis 1, Genesis 2, and Genesis 3. But they can also stretch truth out over more pages. Parsing the grammatical niceties of Numbers 3 (Korah’s rebellion) is simply less likely to yield as much truth-per-millimeter than parsing the grammatical niceties of Romans 3. In numbers we parse discourse niceties and are more often to measure truth by the meter.

Upshot: don’t necessarily feel guilty for filling your NT volumes more full of notes than (many of) your OT volumes. Genesis and Psalms and Proverbs may get more notes than other books, and that can be okay. It is possible to neglect the OT, surely, but I think I’ve offered some reasons why fewer notes need not mean that’s what you’re doing.

Don’t feel guilty for buying journals for just the NT, either. They’re really beautiful and useful.

A standard spread from the NT journals

4. ESV New Christian’s Bible

In order to maintain my objectivity, I have to review a new ESV Bible I’m not quite as keen on. The ESV New Christian’s Bible was actually something I was excited about. I’m doing a Bible study through Romans weekly with someone I hope is a new Christian, and I wanted to review this Bible so I could give it to him.

But I was a little underwhelmed. The notes for new Christians feel a little sparse and even desultory. They’re short; they don’t take up much space in an otherwise straightforwardly normal two-column layout. Typography in ESV Bibles is always good, so this hardcover edition is still certainly worth using. But it isn’t anything to write your homeschool about.

The little call-outs cover “core Christian beliefs” such as…

  • The image of God
  • The fall into sin
  • God’s law
  • Holiness
  • The Ten Commandments
  • God’s Word
  • Forgiveness
  • Worship
  • The Lord’s Prayer
  • The Trinity
  • Bearing Fruit
  • The Lord’s Supper
  • The Incarnation
  • Jesus’ death for us
  • New Birth
  • The Holy Spirit
  • Baptism
  • Faith
  • The local church
  • Spiritual gifts
  • Satan
  • Heaven

Conclusion

There are many great translations of the Bible out there into English. I’d be grateful to have even just one of the mainstream evangelical efforts. I do see literal translation in the tradition of the King James as having proven its usefulness. Over many years of weighing more literal translations against less literal ones (the major ones are still all pretty literal), I just can’t pick a “winner”—if “winner” means I have to give up the “loser.” I get value out of all major translations.

But I do tend to see literal translations as a study baseline. If I have to pick a place for people who can read pretty well to start, I’ll pick literal translations. And among those I like the ESV best—precisely because it comes in so many beautiful and useful editions. This is why I encouraged our church (the decision was not precisely up to me) to go for the ESV a few years back: because I wanted to buy into a Bible-publishing ecosystem that would make it as easy as possible for our church people to stumble on useful Bible study aids like the ones I cover in this post.

I’m truly thrilled to see Crossway coming out with so many ESV editions. Where others cynically see greed (without ever once bothering to consider to think of imagining doing any homework to find out how much profit is too much for a Christian publisher, sigh), I see a healthy flourishing of interest in the Bible.


Disclosure of material connection: UPS made a material connection between Crossway and my residence. I did not buy these Bibles, and when I pulled them out of their boxes I could discern no strings attaching them to my reviews. The only one I would probably buy on my own is the New Christian’s Bible—but I would buy it in order to give it away. I did, in fact, give my review copy away to a new believer. I suppose I could imagine buying any of these four ESVs as gifts for the right person—the OT set for a kid going off to Christian college, the NT set for a young man beginning training for ministry who also liked paper more than pixels. I’m not the market for these beautiful things; I’m too tied to digital workflows. I gave away my previous six-volume ESV Reader’s Bible, too, the one without verse numbers. The paper Bibles I actually use include a nice leather-bound ESV for preaching, a one-volume ESV Reader’s Bible, and a smattering of other editions of other translations that I pick up at random on my way to church sometimes. But when I get there, child often in my lap, I usually end up pulling out Logos on my smartphone. You probably didn’t need to know all that. I hope you are the market for these beautiful Bibles, and that they will assist you in growing in your knowledge of God through his Word.

Disclosure of different material connection: I use Amazon affiliate links on my blog. I buy almost all my books from Amazon, because capitalism.

Join the Conversation

Review: Write Better, by Andrew T. Le Peau

Mark Ward

Andrew Le Peau is surely qualified to write a book on writing better: he has been an editor at IVP for forty years. But I hope I’m qualified to say that (most of) the book, though fine, didn’t scratch where I personally itch. His advice for the first two thirds of the book is fairly standard, his examples as well. If you’ve never read such a book, Le Peau will serve you well. If you need to hear, “Reading widely and learning from experienced, educated authorities can be invaluable,” Le Peau will tell you. If you need to hear, “The advantage[s] of presenting the strongest case against our viewpoint,” Le Peau will tell you. If you need to take time to define your audience, he will tell you to do it. If you need to be told to rewrite, same. If you need to be told that the “rules” of grammar don’t come from heaven but are instead human tools, check. If you need to be told that a good title is essential to your books success, ditto. (I’m being a little hard on him: the titling section was useful: he did a good job breaking down common contemporary titling practice.)

I nearly gave up on this book during those first two sections, because—what am I supposed to say?—I kind of already knew what he was going to say. I’m a writer and an editor, jobs I’ve been doing for my entire adult life. I guess I should be relieved that I received no revelations.

Why I’m glad I didn’t give up

But I’m glad I didn’t give up on Writing Better, because the third section, spiritual meta-reflections on the writing life, were full of genuine wisdom for me. Le Peau actually really nailed me: I had a little success with my “first” book, and dealing with the paralysis that comes from praise has been a noticeable internal challenge. My book, to my total and grateful shock, got endorsements from major heroes of mine. It was like LeBron James praising the basketball skills of the second-string point guard at Claremont Elementary. I have many times felt like quitting while I’m ahead. Why stick my neck out again when I have that nice bed of laurels over there to rest on? With my royalty checks, I can take my whole family out to Five Guys Burgers and Fries every six months. Now, where’s a horse and a sunset?

Le Peau had the right advice for me, and though I “already knew” this, too, I still needed to hear it and found it truly edifying. He told me that if I love my neighbor and love the truth and am humble before the God who gave me whatever writing gifts and opportunities I have, then I will write again.

Le Peau also offered some simple, helpful advice for how to handle criticism. This was aproPeau (cue Jim Gaffigan’s high-pitched self-mockery voice: Why did he type that?):

Social media is generally not a good place to try to resolve criticism. Again, people are going to say what they are going to say. You had your say. Let them have theirs. If you have a personal relationship with someone who has said something especially problematic, handle it personally if possible, away from the often-distorting glare of the internet. (224)

Bam. Do that. I’m going to.

Le Peau also told me something I’ve never heard and never even thought of: make sure I have a literary executor named in my will. Just one, so my kids don’t have to make a difficult mutual decision over the book manuscript that facilitated so many family nights at Five Guys. I owe him for that wisdom.

He also gave a publisher’s view of the current state of book publishing, and a Christian view of how to build a platform without sinning against a Lord who told us not to take the seats of honor at feasts. Good stuff.

He also offered advice for how to remain tethered helpfully to authority, lest you discover that your fame or platform has pulled you away from sound doctrine. I hope I never need his wisdom, but I’m glad I have it.

Oh, and I liked this quote a lot: “Both fiction and nonfiction can speak truth—and both can lie” (3).

In sum

And so can book reviews. So I hope I’m telling you the truth: this is a good book that needs to find the readers for which it is meant. I was (⅓) and wasn’t (⅔) it.

Sometimes I’m a clinical reader, or I pretend to be one. Really, though, I’m an emotional reader. I have ups and downs with books. The first portions of the book were, yeah, kind of flat for me. I was at two stars—just for me personally (I still recommend the whole book for newbies). But the last portion of the book was full of wisdom and a truly Christian spirit. That section pulled me up to three stars, and not dwarf stars but like medium-sized ones.

New and aspiring Christian writers: pick this book up. Work by God’s grace to get to the point where its counsel feels old hat, because it offers wise, practical, Christian advice on how to Write Better.

Disclosure of material connection: I picked up this as a free review book because a friend who used to work at IVP was certain it would be good.

Join the Conversation

Ask Nicely for Your Church, School, or Camp to Move away from the KJV

Mark Ward

There’s a beautiful Christian camp I’ve been to many times which serves my hometown crowd of more or less independent, baptistic churches. Anybody who knows me can guess which camp I’m talking about, but please don’t: what I’m about to say applies to many, many institutions beyond this camp. The camp is just one of the ones I know best. I’ve gone to multiple retreats there, and I served as a teen camp counselor there for two summers. I’ve also helped out at weekend retreats, prayed for the camp, and given money. The staff is godly and dedicated and has made a lastingly positive impact on me; the property is nothing short of stupendous. Faithful churches have been investing in it for decades. The camp has done much good work in countless hearts.

The camp uses the KJV exclusively for all preaching, teaching, and Scripture memorization.

A full twenty years ago, as a teenage summer counselor, I happened to have a conversation with the camp’s founder: “When do you think our crowd of churches will be able to move away from the King James Version?” I asked. It was right about then that I had begun to realize, with the help of my pastor, that the KJV was an “impediment” (his word) to my ministry as a budding Bible teacher. I was seeing this as I spoke to campers. It was mostly little things they were missing; at least, I think so. When I would ask them what a verse meant—and you can ask those who have worked with me in ministry: I am always asking this—their stumbling was not, I think, due completely to the KJV’s old-style English. But some of it was. “Fret not thyself in any wise to do evil,” our first memory verse, just didn’t make any sense to them. (I give this whole story in Authorized and in Authorized.)

I knew why we had to use the KJV: out of deference to and patience with brothers who were sensitive about it. But I wasn’t (and amn’t) satisfied with such a situation. Surely, deference and patience are important Christian values (1 Pet 4:8). But just as surely—a word more sure—a Bible translation the plow boy can read is a more important and more foundational value. When I asked the camp founder when this situation would end, I got a direct and respectful answer: “Not within my lifetime.”

The lede

Not long ago this beloved servant of the Lord finished his earthly race. I will never forget him, and neither will countless others who were even more deeply influenced by him.

I recently called another staff member there, a personal friend closer to my own age, and put to him the same basic question: “When can our beloved camp move away from the KJV?”

And here is the lede I have buried: He told me no one had ever requested that the camp make a change.

I was shocked. Nobody? Nobody has even asked?

My point

I buried my lede, but I won’t bury my point: Ask, and ask nicely, and ask now, for your treasured institutions to change their only-KJV policies. Camps, churches, publishers, schools, mission boards. Ask.

I don’t want to create division. I don’t want (and I’m indebted to FBFI leader Kevin Schaal for this point) to begin an only-not-KJV party to compete with the KJV-Only party. I don’t want to start any fights or even arguments. And I don’t want you to do it, either. I don’t think arguments will work with most treasured institutions. And I’m not even sure they’re needed (though I’ve got them if they are). I think that leaders of those institutions who 1) still use the KJV but 2) are not formally KJV-Only wish they could change. They just need to know that their constituency won’t blow into a kjvillion pieces when they do so.

You, if you’re reading my blog, are quite possibly their new constituency. They’re serving you now. They need to hear your voice and register your vote. I don’t want the institutions I love to think that their constituency is happy with the status quo AV (an obscure pun; please forgive me).

So write them.

What to write

When (not if!) you write, write something like this. Keep it short and gracious, and make certain to appeal to the Bible, specifically 1 Corinthians 14. Also, feel free to include the key idea of “false friends” (it is the answer to the standard “buck up and grab a dictionary” reply).

Dear President/Director/Pastor X,

I have long appreciated Institution X, and I have faithfully supported it with prayer and with financial gifts. I wish to see its ministry carry on long into the future. Over the last several years I have become increasingly burdened about an important issue that affects Institution X’s God-given work. I believe that the continued choice to use the King James Version may be hindering its effectiveness for some hearers due to changes that have taken place in the English language over the centuries. Edification requires intelligibility (1 Cor 14:9), and this matters to me. For the last many years, I have been using contemporary English translations of the Scriptures—and they have noticeably improved my Bible-reading life. I don’t know if there has ever been a discussion about changing the version that Institution X uses, but I wanted to take time to let you know that I would be very excited if you did choose to make this change.

I recognize that this issue is sensitive; it may not be the right time for the ministry to make such a big change. But I did want to let you know that I would be very supportive of this change and would be very appreciative if you would consider making it.

Please view this note only as one small vote in favor of moving to—or at least opening up liberty for the use of—a faithful contemporary English Bible translation. Perhaps some students/preachers/weeks of camp could use the NKJV instead? It uses the same base texts as the KJV, but it translates them into contemporary English.

May the Lord bless your work, and may He give fruit that remains to Institution X.

In Christ,

You

A suggested compromise

The KJV-Only portion of your beloved institution’s constituency will, naturally, cry foul. They will say that you are introducing change where none is needed. But, truly, it is they who have introduced a change. The doctrine we are supposed to be upholding is not, “We should all use the King James Version,” or even, “We should all use the same Bible translation.” The doctrine is, instead, something like, “Bible translation into the common vernacular is necessary for teaching the nations—including the simple plow boy—to observe everything Jesus has commanded.” This is the historic, Reformation (and Baptist!) doctrine we all say we support. This is what Tyndale gave his life for. Our KJV-Only brothers, praise God, do not deny this doctrine—but by insisting on the exclusive use of the King James Bible they are slowly letting it slip.

They don’t know that’s what they’re doing; they sincerely think they’re not. And for this reason, I am willing to compromise with them. I am eager to compromise with them. I’d prefer the ESV or NASB or CSB or NIV; but because they feel strongly that the Textus Receptus is the best edition of the Greek New Testament, and because I wish to remain unified with them if at all possible, I am happy to use the NKJV or MEV (or both) instead of what I prefer (they are based on the TR). So, when I talked to that camp leader, I encouraged him to consider having two NKJV weeks at camp for churches in the constituency who might prefer this. It seems to me to be a reasonable step of compromise. If my KJV-Only brothers will not take that step, they will demonstrate that they are not Textus-Receptus-Only but, truly, KJV-Only. Then we can have a different conversation.

We owe our institutions a debt: they have done great good for us. Let us do the hard work of maintaining them, for the good of people yet unborn—people for whom King James English will be even more difficult than it is for us.

A postscript for leaders

To leaders: I’m a nobody. Nobody has to listen to me—except perhaps to count me as one vote (or maybe two, since my wife agrees with me!). I will not get on a high horse and say that change away from the KJV must come immediately. I don’t know that. I want you and your institution to succeed, and more than likely you need to take it slow. I have written suggested steps for making a change (particularly in a church setting) here. I offer them humbly for your use.

I will say this, however: the Bible says you should take a first step away from the KJV, even if the final one is twenty years off. Saying, “We serve churches; we don’t lead them,” is true and not true. It’s humble, and that’s the way it ought to be—but it isn’t the way it is. Churches do look to their institutions as a barometer for where other churches are. Using intelligible language in ministry is a biblical value, and you ought to move in that direction whether your constituency likes it or not. A suggested first step for camps: sprinkle your KJV quotations in printed literature with explanatory brackets; that’s what I do when I’m required to use the KJV. I refuse to leave the plow boys who read my Bible textbooks without that help.

And one more thing: many institutions in my circles are led by Baby Boomers, people who have built up trust through decades of faithfulness. I pray that I will one day be you. I admire and respect you. Spend some of your accumulated trust capital on moving away from the KJV: it is one of the touchiest issues out there, and if you kick the can to the next leader (a Millennial?), he or she may have to wait another two decades to build up anything like the trust you’ve amassed. Consider taking one last blow on the chin as one of your greatest legacies to the next generation. Leadership is servanthood. Boy is it.

Join the Conversation