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Proof of what is unseen

An Example of What You Can Get out of a Self-Helpy Book When You Must

Mark Ward

My company offers incentives to employees every year to read business books. By this means I have gotten through some self-helpy stuff I admit I would have disdained otherwise. To be honest, I feel icky when I read books that purport to lead you to a successful life and yet omit to mention the God of eternal power and divine nature that, Romans 1 says, the books’ authors can’t not know is there—and is not silent. Maybe I’m the weaker brother here; but I just have a hard time stomaching the secularism and implicit Pelagianism. And yet I’m a firm believer in common grace, so I’m eager to acknowledge that 1) nearly anyone who writes a business book knows more about the topic than I do and 2) I’ve gotten some bits of genuine wisdom worth having from these books. Recently I read two such books which, no surprise, led me back to a specifically Christian truth about love.

Alchemy

Rory Sutherland in Alchemy tells story after story showing that humans don’t have complete access to their own motivations, their “psychologic.” But, he argues, if product designers and marketers can work to discover that psychologic, they can come up with clever solutions to all kinds of problems, many of which we don’t yet even see. (For whatever reason, the suggestions that most fascinated me had to do with restructuring the seating on the metro [British English: “tube”] so as to reward riders who choose to take up less space. He suggested little bumps/stools built into the wall.)

Why we should bother to do all this creative work is left to the reader’s worldview. I presume that “making more money” will be the motivation for many or most readers. This book appeals to no explicit system of values. But the reader comes away convinced that Rory Sutherland is clever and not too conceited about it. (Well, this reader did. Other readers, says Goodreads, thought he was bragging the whole time about his cleverness. Unfortunately, that is also a possible read of the book.)

Think Like a Freak

Think Like a Freak is the third in a series of books that—the authors are right to say in their conclusion—has probably run its course. I’ve read all three. The schtick is probably played out sufficiently, and it’s fundamentally similar to that of Sutherland in Alchemy: pay attention to human incentives and how people operate, and you can get stuff done better with and for other people. We shall not say “pay attention to human incentives and how people operate, and you can manipulate people,” because the authors’ motives seem to me to be more altruistic than that. They are helping tackle some important questions, such as diminishing societal obesity and catching terrorists, in which the ends of public health and safety justify a few means that bear resemblance to experiments performed on rats.

But here’s what stuck out to me as I listened again to the entertaining but now-a-bit-cliched stories in the third of the three Freakonomics books: Dubner and Levitt actually do get into worldview, into evaluating motivations. And they say, toward the end of their book, that love has to drive you if you hope to live up to the ideals they promote.

If you love your work (or your activism or your family time), then you’ll want to do more of it. You’ll think about it before you go to sleep and as soon as you wake up; your mind is always in gear. When you’re that engaged, you’ll run circles around other people even if they are more naturally talented. From what we’ve seen personally, the best predictor of success among young economists and journalists is whether they absolutely love what they do.

Right after this quote, the authors let their insight lapse a bit into platitude (that is no less true for being a cliché): love your work, and you’ll never work a day in your life. But I’d like to explore their insight in the above paragraph.

Because it is all fine, and it is all good, to watch other people be clever. But how are you ever going to come up with that key idea that will work Alchemy on your product sales, your public health project, your book manuscript? What can you do to increase your creativity, enabling you to Think Like a Freak? Or is it just a gift, and you have it or you don’t?

Dubner and Levitt’s answer in that paragraph is love. And I think as a Christian that they have to be right. What little success I’ve seen in my field of writing for the church has come when love for people who are not currently seeing particular divinely revealed truths has so consumed me that I have endlessly mulled over how to open their eyes. My wife knows when this is happening, because as the old King James says, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” I talk about it with her. I’d like to think some of my recent work has stumbled into a niche no one really saw before; I didn’t even know I’d discovered it until love drove me into it and I looked up to see where I was. (Permission to change metaphors, sir? Granted.) I have been astonished how many insights grow in a field watered by love. The creative ideas just keep coming. I have many thousands more words written that I haven’t published because I assume others are probably tired of hearing from me. I’m actually going to need to stop loving because I need to be done with this topic…

Reading anecdotes in self-helpy business books can surely help prime the pump of good ideas. It’s funny and inspiring to see people gifted by common grace using their God-given brains cleverly. But love is like the water pressure in the pump. If there’s no love driving you, creative ideas will not flow.

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Science and Religion Should Not Fight

Mark Ward

Spurgeon quotes one “Dr. M’Cosh” in The Treasury of David, and he has eloquent and insightful things to say, centuries ago, about the war between science and religion, reason and faith:

We have often mourned over the attempts made to set the works of God against the Word of God, and thereby excite, propagate, and perpetuate jealousies fitted to separate parties that ought to live in closest union.

In particular, we have always regretted that endeavours should have been made to depreciate nature with a view of exalting revelation; it has always appeared to us to be nothing else than the degrading of one part of God’s works in the hope thereby of exalting and recommending another.

Let not science and religion be reckoned as opposing citadels, frowning defiance upon each other, and their troops brandishing their armour in hostile attitude. They have too many common foes, if they would but think of it, in ignorance and prejudice, in passion and vice, under all their forms, to admit of their lawfully wasting their strength in a useless warfare with each other.

Science has a foundation, and so has religion; let them unite their foundations, and the basis will be broader, and they will be two compartments of one great fabric reared to the glory of God. Let the one be the outer and the other the inner court. In the one, let all look, and admire and adore; and in the other, let those who have faith kneel, and pray, and praise. Let the one be the sanctuary where human learning may present its richest incense as an offering to God, and the other the holiest of all, separated from it by a veil now rent in twain, and in which, on a blood-sprinkled mercy-seat, we pour out the love of a reconciled heart, and hear the oracles of the living God.

C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David: Psalms 1-26, vol. 1 (London; Edinburgh; New York: Marshall Brothers, n.d.), 270.

HT: Doug Bachorik

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Answering a Few More Objections to Authorized: Part 5, We Use Only the KJV—for Only Practical Reasons

Mark Ward

I’m in the midst of a short series answering objections to my viewpoint in Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible, objections that for various reasons didn’t make it into the book already. (Most objections I hear I already addressed.) Last Monday, we looked at Objection 1: The modern versions are copyrighted; a.k.a., they’re all in it for the money. Last Wednesday, we looked at Objection 2: Not all false friends are false friends to all readers. Last Friday, Objection 3: I am pushing a new Onlyism to replace the old. On Monday, Objection 4: the NKJV uses critical text readings. Today, the too-long-awaited conclusion.

5. We retain the KJV solely for practical reasons

I’ve had several church leaders tell me that they see and even perhaps agree with my viewpoint, but that it’s extremely important to retain the KJV for practical reasons. Everyone in a church should be using the same Bible translation, they say. This is the only way the church can have Scripture memory programs and corporate reading. They fear the confusion that arises when someone says, “Well, that’s not what my Bible says.”

I think their concern is overblown; I have never seen this confusion happen in 20 years of being in churches where people carry multiple translations. And I would love to get that question in a Bible study. It would show that people are paying attention; it would be a great teaching moment. I think laypeople with high school educations can be taught to use multiple translations profitably. Pastors should teach them how, at least by example if not explicitly.

But even if confusion does arise as the English-speaking church transitions from the KJV to other versions, let’s consider that this is going to have to happen at some point. The KJV cannot last forever, because language won’t stop changing. And we will never reach a point at which every last English speaking Christian will agree that it’s time to move on from the KJV. Someone will always be able to complain about the degraded state of English and other people’s failure to live up to proper reading standards. History tells us that complainers about kids these days and their newfangled English will always get some amens. Some churches still use the Latin Vulgate. The KJV May have an equally long run.

But if we believe that edification requires intelligibility, as Paul taught the Corinthians, someone is going to have to bear the burden of change for the sake of these children—our children. Why not us?

If someone retains the KJV solely—truly and only—for practical reasons, then it should be no problem to switch to the NKJV or ESV. The practical reasons will apply to those versions just as much. Again, I think 1 Corinthians 14 says this is the direction pastors should go who are currently using the KJV.

Conclusion

Many people, particularly pastors, from KJV-Only circles have been gracious to me despite our disagreements. But there is no use denying that KJV-Onlyism has a reputation for irascibility. KJV-Onlyism is a conspiracy theory: it posits that all the evangelical Bible scholars who give us our technical commentaries, journal articles, and English Bible translations are either dupes or devils. They’re either unwittingly doing Satan’s work by undermining the message of Scripture, or (obviously worse) they’re knowingly participating in a nefarious and diabolical scheme to destroy the Christian faith.

I have tried to be self-reflective about the fact that in my work on this topic I may just be defending my tribe. I am one of the evangelical biblical studies academics; I make a living in that world, I’m at the conferences, I’m reviewing books. I make occasional written contributions to that world myself. I wanna be a scholar when I grow up. So, am I biased?

If I were, how could I know? It would be a blindspot. I can only plead: look at my fruits. Read my articles and books. Listen to my sermons. More importantly, go read some of the books by men I mentioned in the first post, the men who actually worked on the modern translations. Tell me these aren’t good men who love the Lord and teach the Word faithfully. Tell me they don’t have a level of theological substance and exegetical depth that is attractive to those who love Scripture. You don’t have to agree with them on everything (I don’t—they don’t agree among themselves on everything) to acknowledge the value they bring to Christ’s body. You just have to acknowledge that they’re not dupes or devils.

I think the best argument against KJV-Onlyism (aside from 1 Corinthians 14) is the huge shelf of excellent books and commentaries and journal articles and blog posts (etc.!) written by evangelical biblical scholars who don’t hold a KJV-Only viewpoint. I think young men in KJV-Only circles know this, because they’ve been on the internet since they were kids. I see a lot of movement among those young men away from KJV-Onlyism, and I’ve written a book to help them take the gentlest possible path out of their KJV-Only viewpoint. I have repeatedly said to them what I said to one just yesterday: “You know what I praise the Lord for most whenever I hear stories like yours (which is often)? The gracious attitude I see. May the Lord give you that kind of grace toward those who shaped you in KJV-Only circles.”

I hope and pray that answering a few more common objections, as I’ve done in this series, will be edifying and helpful for these men and those they lead.

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Answering a Few More Objections to Authorized: Part 4, The New King James Version Uses Critical Text Readings

Mark Ward

I’m in the midst of a short series answering objections to my viewpoint in Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible, objections that for various reasons didn’t make it into the book already. (Most objections I hear I already addressed.) Last Monday, we looked at Objection 1: The modern versions are copyrighted; a.k.a., they’re all in it for the money. Last Wednesday, we looked at Objection 2: Not all false friends are false friends to all readers. Last Friday, Objection 3: I am pushing a new Onlyism to replace the old. This coming Wednesday, Objection 5: We retain the KJV solely for practical reasons.

4. The New King James Version uses critical text readings.

Nearly every critic of my work on the KJV has insisted that I was sidestepping the real debate, the debate over textual criticism of the Greek New Testament. It must be said that I gave two pages of argument as to why I shouldn’t have to engage this debate, and to date, none of my critical reviewers has mentioned this fact or answered the arguments I made there.

So I won’t repeat them, nor will I discuss textual criticism. It is an entirely separate issue from the one I wished to discuss in the book, namely the scriptural and linguistic case for vernacular translation. Authorized is officially neutral on the question of textual criticism. Someone who prefers the Greek and Hebrew textual bases of the KJV can agree with my point 100%, and I think maybe a tiny few do.

But there is one common objection to my viewpoint that relates to textual criticism that I do feel I need to clear away. It’s a big reason there aren’t more people who prefer the Textus Receptus or Majority Text New Testament and yet use a vernacular translation of those texts. And it’s something I hate to bring up. Indeed, it is time for me to do something I avoided doing in the book. I am going to charge my theological opponents with sin—though a sin of omission rather than of commission. But I can’t avoid it: the KJV-Only movement as a whole, and many individuals within it, are not telling the truth, and the leaders at least should know better.

Here’s what I mean: repeatedly I have seen KJV-Only leaders say that 1) all the modern versions use a different textual basis than the KJV. The significant minority who know that the NKJV claims to use the same textual basis as the KJV have repeatedly said 2) that the NKJV actually incorporates a number of readings from the critical text.

Here is the NKJV editors’ claim:

Because the New King James Version is the fifth revision of a historic document [the KJV] translated from specific Greek texts, the editors decided to retain the traditional text in the body of the New Testament and to indicate major Critical and Majority Text variant readings in the popup notes.

But here’s a Greek professor at Ambassador Baptist College teaching on the topic:

My biggest personal gripe with the New King James, other than some of the changes we’re gonna show you, is that they went beyond the stated purpose. The stated purpose was, we’re going to keep everything from the traditional King James and we’re just going to try to modernize some of the words. The truth is out of these thousands and thousands of changes, there are thousands of times where the changes that they made actually match the Westcott-Hort/UBS/critical text Bibles. So they made changes that reflect a different textual view.

(4:45)

Here’s another quote from the same lecture:

There are people that have gone through and compiled lists of places where changes to the NKJV New Testament actually reflect the Westcott-Hort.

(18:10)

I have diligently sought for these lists, and the cupboard was bare.

Even the most gracious and careful KJV-Only brothers, such as Charles Surrett (also of Ambassador), have repeated the charge that the NKJV includes critical text readings in the text. Surrett, to his credit, then acknowledged that he hadn’t personally looked into that charge and couldn’t verify it. But he is still raising the possibility that the NKJV committee are liars without giving any evidence that they are. (He also, in his Certainty of the Words, casts doubt on the NKJV because there was only one Independent Baptist involved in its production, and that one, Surrett says, “is definitely not a TR advocate.” It isn’t enough that the NKJV use the TR; its progenitors have to believe in its perfection, or the NKJV can’t be trusted. One wonders, then, how it is that Surrett can trust the work of Scrivener himself [the scholar who put together the edition of the TR that Surrett defends], given that Scrivener was on the committee that revised the KJV to reflect the Westcott-Hort Greek New Testament.)

Indeed, I have never once seen my KJV-Only brothers produce an example of a critical text reading in the NKJV. They are, as a group, calling the NKJV translators liars.

Now let me say immediately that I will not return the favor: I will not call my KJV-Only brothers “liars.” I do not believe that any individual KJV-Only brother has self-consciously told an untruth about the NKJV. A “lie” is something the liar knows to be false; I think my KJV-Only brothers sincerely believe what they’re saying. (And a few writers, such as David Cloud, have clearly told the truth about the textual basis of the NKJV.) But they have still, together, told a big untruth: friends who graduated from KJV-Only Bible colleges confirm that they were told that the NKJV was a critical text Bible (or were never told that it wasn’t). KJV-Only leaders in particular ought to know better, and that’s a moral ought.

After years trying to figure out what basis the KJV-Only apologists had for saying that the NKJV “includes critical text readings,” I think I have figured out what’s going on. It’s an understandable confusion. It starts with someone saying what is undoubtedly true, that the NKJV includes critical text readings in the margins. It does. Repeatedly. The preface says so, and they are evident everywhere in the New Testament. (Note: the KJV has textual critical notes, too.)

But then someone else hears that the NKJV “includes critical text readings” and fails to realize that they are not in the text—and an unkillable, untrue rumor is born.

Also, the NKJV may at times choose the same English rendering as some other contemporary translation using the critical text—but that’s surely bound to happen given that the critical text and the TR are so overwhelmingly similar. Such renderings do not constitute evidence that the NKJV is secretly using the critical text.

The KJV-Only brothers and sisters who shaped me in high school cared deeply about truth. It’s time KJV-Only leaders publicly pushed back against the inadvertent untruth many of them, even and especially the leaders, have been repeating for a long time. Someone in authority—Bible college professors especially, I think—ought to have checked. The NKJV does not include any critical text readings.

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Answering a Few More Objections to Authorized: Part 3, You Are Pushing Modern Versions Onlyism

Mark Ward

I’m in the midst of a short series answering objections to my viewpoint in Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible, objections that for various reasons didn’t make it into the book already. (Most objections I hear I already addressed.) On Monday, we looked at Objection 1: The modern versions are copyrighted; a.k.a., they’re all in it for the money. On Wednesday, we looked at Objection 2: Not all false friends are false friends to all readers. Objection 3: I am pushing a new Onlyism to replace the old.

And, uh, I promised only three days of posts—Mon, Wed, Fri; but things have expanded a little and I am now going to include two more bonus posts:

4. Next Monday: The New King James Version uses critical text readings.
5. Next Wednesday: We retain the KJV solely for practical reasons

Here we go…

3. You are pushing Modern Versions Onlyism.

There’s actually group in between the KJV-Only and not-KJV-Only worlds: a number of people in my own hometown crowd who are not KJV-Only but yet see no reason to move away from the KJV as their main pulpit Bible—or at least not now. These brothers resist the Onlyism in KJV-Onlyism, but they have various reasons for retaining use of the KJV in their own ministries. One of them in particular liked my book and recommended it, but sent me a friendly and constructive criticism: I should make sure I’m not creating a new tribe, a new Onlyism to replace the old, a Modern Versions Onlyism.

I felt this was indeed a helpful comment, and I want to affirm it. I want to say very clearly that I agree: let’s not make an “only-not-King-James” tribe to compete against the “KJV-Only” tribe. Given that, until two years ago, my own pastor preached from the KJV, I certainly do not want to say—or leave the impression that—using the KJV in preaching and evangelism is always and everywhere a sin. That would indeed make me guilty of the same kind of tribalism that I’ve critiqued in others.

And as I said in the book, I’m not telling anyone to throw away their copy of the KJV. I use the KJV daily, along with other good translations. But in church, where the choice of the pastor is going to be followed by the choice of most people, I urge readers, based on 1 Corinthians 14 and other passages, to use intelligible versions. If anything, then, I’m promoting intelligible-versions-onlyism, or rather, only-intelligible-versions-in-church-once-you’ve-become-acquainted-with-my-argument-in-Authorized-ism. If language didn’t change, I wouldn’t care about the age of our Bible translations. But language does change, so I do. The Bible says I should.

Let me also say that change cannot and must not come quickly in all churches. Pastors shouldn’t drive the sheep hard. I sympathize with the shepherd who says he has more important problems to deal with before he can get to the King James Onlyism among his sheep. But here’s what I consistently say to pastors: take a step this Sunday in the right doctrinal direction. If the ground is getting bare in spots in the pasture where you are, start taking baby steps toward the greener pasture over yonder. Map out some more steps for yourself. Here’s a suggested set:

  1. Start in your preaching by mentioning times when the KJV itself suggests alternate translations in the margin. Get the sheep used to the idea that translation is art as well as science, that there isn’t one-and-only-one right way to translate a given verse. There are options. Get them used to the idea, too, that the Bible in their hands is a translation.
  2. Have your church leadership read the preface to the KJV (or my abridgment and translation of it—and maybe even my reflections on it). Talk through it with them.
  3. After a while, begin mentioning times when a contemporary translation is helpful in understanding a given passage. Don’t denigrate the KJV (you should never do that at any point); just praise the ESV, NIV, CSB, NASB, NKJV, or NLT. Tell specific stories that show how you personally grew in your understanding through using a contemporary translation.
  4. Do a short series on bibliology in adult Sunday School.
  5. Have church leaders read my book, and ask their families to watch my related documentary. If this sounds self-serving, you probably have an inflated view of what kind of royalties authors get for obscure titles such as mine! Here’s what motivates me to include this step: I have written the book I knew I needed for ministry, a book offering the gentlest and most lay-accessible path out of KJV-Onlyism. If you can’t afford the book, talk to me.
  6. Praise good writers who are not KJV-Only, and put their books in people’s hands.
  7. Open up liberty to use contemporary translations in evangelism.
  8. Encourage people to read a different translation this year.
  9. Give some time for people to have the same positive Bible study experiences you’ve had using contemporary translations. Have them give their stories to the congregation.
  10. Take a vote (depending on your polity) on changing your pulpit and pew Bibles to a contemporary translation, but give liberty to Bible teachers to use what they prefer.

You don’t have to follow all my ten steps; they’re not Bible. But do something. 1 Corinthians 14 says you should.

And that’s the ultimate issue: none of what I have written on the KJV is worth much if my 1 Corinthians 14 argument isn’t rock solid. See for yourself if it is. Look at the places where Paul ties edification to intelligibility. If you use unintelligible words when intelligible ones are available, what would Paul tell you to do?

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.

Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? So with yourselves, 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. There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.

Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

(1 Corinthians 14 ESV)
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Answering a Few More Objections to Authorized: Part 2, Not All False Friends Are False Friends to All Readers

Mark Ward

I’m in the midst of a short series answering objections to my viewpoint in Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible, objections that for various reasons didn’t make it into the book already. (Most objections I hear I already addressed.) On Monday, we looked at Objection 1: The modern versions are copyrighted; a.k.a., they’re all in it for the money. Today, Objection 2. Friday, secret surprise Objections 3, 4, and 5.

2. Not all false friends are false friends to all readers.

This objection came from one of my most thoughtful and capable critics. I think he’s right in his criticism, though I’m stating his argument in a form more congenial to my viewpoint. Indeed, there are some very sharp readers of the KJV out there who have already caught some of the false friends I listed in the book (as well as others). I need to emphasize a little more, then, something I did say in the book.

In Authorized I defined a false friend as a word that is 1) still used today but 2) meant something different in 1611. And, crucially, I added this idea: false friends are words 3) that have “changed in such a way that modern readers are unlikely to notice” (119). Aa number of the examples I gave unquestionably meet these three criteria. But that third one is squirrelly, and I didn’t account for rodents adequately. Take this example that I gave in the book:

Men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good. (2 Tim. 3:2 KJVOpen in Logos Bible Software (if available))

I wrote of this word incontinent:

Today this means men will lose control of their bowels. In 1611 it meant lacking in self-restraint. (45)

I do think some readers will stumble here and and fail to notice that incontinence is an odd character quality to put in a vice list. Incontinent, for some readers, meets all three criteria of a false friend. But surely some readers today, many readers, will notice that our modern sense doesn’t make sense in this context. Almost the definition of a skillful reader is that he or she will notice that a word doesn’t seem to fit in its context. So is incontinent still a false friend?

In a future edition of my book I’ll spell out these three criteria explicitly and be a little more careful to distinguish words that meet two from those that meet three. But I’ll say this: there is no saying once and for all which words are dead words, which are false friends, and which aren’t either. Different readers have different skill levels and knowledge bases. What kind of skill level should a Bible translation aim at? Defenders of the exclusive use of the KJV are commonly confused on this point. I often hear them say, “Complaints about KJV readability are ludicrous! It’s on a fifth-grade reading level, as computers prove!” But a short time later I hear them say, “Modern versions dumb down the Bible by using contemporary English!” It’s like an accessible reading level is a good thing in the KJV and a bad thing anywhere else.

So, sure, ideally every Christian would be a great reader. But they’re not, and they’re never going to be. Not many wise, not many noble are called. I think it is acceptable for contemporary translations to aim at somewhat different audiences. The NIV is pegged at a seventh grade level—and, again, before any KJV readers scoff, they should remember how many of their own have insisted that the KJV is on a fifth-grade level. The ESV and NASB, in my estimation, aim at a more difficult reading level. The CSB is somewhere in between. And as I said in the first edition of Authorized, I’m happy to use multiple different translations. I read only at a tenth grade level because of all the TV I watched as a kid (kidding…), and I still get help from translations pegged below and above my level.

Now, some readers of my book complained that some of my examples of false friends were not exactly important passages. Does it really matter if some of today’s readers stumble over incontinent (whether they know it or not)? It’s not like they’re changing Christian doctrine when they misunderstand a false friend.

And that’s true. But I can easily turn the tables here: if the false friends I cite are matters of no consequence, then why fight so hard to keep them as they are? Is it okay for our main Bible translation to include many words like incontinent when without self-control is readily available?

Alan Jacobs, one of my favorite writers, commented once about “what C. S. Lewis…, in his book Studies in Words, called the ‘dangerous sense’ of an old word or phrase.” Then Jacobs quoted Lewis:

The dominant sense of any word lies uppermost in our minds. Wherever we meet the word, our natural impulse will be to give it that sense. When this operation results in nonsense, of course, we see our mistake and try over again. But if it makes tolerable sense our tendency is to go merrily on. We are often deceived. In an old author the word may mean something different. I call such senses dangerous senses because they lure us into misreadings.

Lewis saw what I see.

Now, not every reader falls into every potential trap. Not all “false friends” are false friends to all readers. I grant that. But at what point should we all be concerned about false friends that are false friends to some readers, especially in a book as important as the Bible? I made the case in the book that the point has come; the time is now; we need to keep the Bible in the hands of the plow boy as Tyndale taught us to do.

The KJV contains not only dead words, words we know we don’t know, but false friends, words we don’t know we don’t know. The list of those false friends will be shorter for some readers with prodigious reading skill and longer for others without knowledge of the historical form of English we call Elizabethan. But I am perfectly confident that there is not a single English speaker alive for whom the list has no entries.

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