We are so into “new” in America. Marketing experts know that if there is any conceivable way that they can find to put the word “new” on a product, it will improve the product’s chances of getting a look, a second look, and an eventual sale.
Most Christians would probably be surprised to find out that the number of Bible translations in the English language is fast approaching 500. That’s right! There are almost 500 translations. Of course many of them are so obscure, odds are that you will never hear of them, let alone ever see them.
Step into you average Christian bookstore and you will have to face the choice between several translations. No, you won’t have hundreds to choose from, but you will probably have the option between most of these popular translations:
– English Standard Version (ESV)
– God’s Word
– Good News Translation (GNT)
– Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)
– King James Version (KJV)
– New American Standard Version (NASB)
– New Century Version (NCV)
– New English Translation (NET)
– New International Version (NIV)
– New International Readers Version (NIrV)
– New King James Version (NKJV)
– New Living Translation (NLT)
– New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
– Revised Standard Version (RSV)
– Today’s New International Version (TNIV)
That’s sixteen translations, over half of which have the word “new” in the name. But all these new translations in the past 50 years really beg the question, “Is newer always better?” It seems that each new translation, upon publication, promises to be THE translation for life.
Go back fifty years and there were only two of those Bibles on the list: the King James Version (KJV) and the Revised Standard Version (RSV). I am not saying that those were the ONLY two versions around back then; I’m only saying that those were the only two versions from the list above.
The New International Version (NIV) has been, by far, the most successful new translation (in terms of sales). But one version in the list still stands alone in influence, popularity, and prestige. And it is far from new. Of course I am referring to the King James Version (KJV).
Even with the success of the NIV, the massive shadow of the KJV looms large over all modern translations. Consider this quote from J. I. Packer (General Editor, ESV) regarding the release of the English Standard Version (ESV) nearly a decade ago:
…I think the ESV is going to go beyond its predecessors and establish itself as, in effect, the new King James for the 21st century.”
It is truly amazing that a translation that is 399 years old is still so influential today! No wonder big plans are being made for the 400th anniversary next year.
As I think about the King James Version, I recognize that a lot of Christians struggle with reading it because of the antiquated language. But I want to suggest that although it may not be the best English translation for reading comprehension, it is definitely one of the best you can choose for in-depth Bible study. Here are a few reasons why:
(1) Literal Translation- The King James Version is a very literal, word-for-word translation, which in today’s terms we call a formal translation. Formal translations are better for in-depth Bible study.
(2) Italicized Words – Pick up a copy of the King James Version and take a look inside. See any italicized words? You should (there is a small chance that you actually own a copy that does not, but the vast majority of copies do). Today we use italics for emphasis but in the King James Version they serve a different purpose. They let us know which words were supplied by the translators in order to help the sentence make sense in English. Translation from one language to another does not always follow a simple one-t0-one correspondence. The translators would translate each word and then maybe make a few syntax adjustments (word order in the sentence). At that point, if it didn’t sound right, they would fill in the words needed for it to sound normal to the English ear.
(3) Precise Pronouns – At one point or another you have probably heard someone complain about the “thees” and “thous” of the King James. For years I did not know that those old pronouns in the King James actually served a positive role for modern readers. The original Hebrew and Greek of the Bible differentiated between the second person singular and plural. In proper modern English we have no differentiation between the two: you/your (singular) and you/your (plural). [In “Southern” English we have differentiation…you and y’all]. When you read the King James Version, thee/thou/thine is singular and ye/you/your is plural. Modern translations have no way for you (thee) to know for sure if the Greek/Hebrew is singular or plural.
(4) Verse-by-Verse Layout – Modern translation are almost always set in paragraph form. For extended reading sessions, paragraph format is more familiar to our modern eyes and preferred by most readers. But for in-depth Bible study the verse-by-verse format has more advantages. For one, it eliminates the interpretive divisions by the modern editors who decided when they thought new paragraphs should begin/end. For two, it leaves more space on the page for you to make notations.
(5) Memory – The very “weakness” of archaic words and unusual phrases becomes a strength when it comes to memorization. The unusual and unfamiliar catches our attention and sticks in our minds more than the familiar. I know many people who say that they can remember verses in the King James far longer than in any of the modern translations in which they have memorized Scripture. The King James Version was translated with oral presentation in mind. The majority of people in the early 1600s were illiterate. Their exposure to the Bible would be completely limited to listening to someone else read it aloud. The translators were highly influenced by this cultural reality and worked hard to produce a translation that would not only be pleasant to the ear, but highly memorable. Based on nearly 400 years of history, I would say they succeeded.
For the above reasons, I would encourage you to consider doing some Bible study in the KJV. Sometimes older is better.