A “Modern” King James Bible? Yeah, We Have Lots of Those

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ 10 Make the heart of this people dull,and their ears heavy,and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes,and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,and turn and be healed.” – Isaiah 6:8-10

I was surfing around at “realclearreligion” just now and I ran across an article titled “Christian Publisher Unveils ‘Modern English Version’ of the Bible” – naturally I had to take a look. To be honest, what caught my eye was the RCR tagline: “King James Bible Goes Modern English.” My first thought – “Umm, the Bible has gone modern English quite a few times over … but how can an Old English translation be anything other than Old English?”

The article turns out to have been consistent with the RCR wording. The first paragraph reads:

A Christian publishing house has recently unveiled a new translation of the Holy Bible labeling itself “most modern King James translation in 30 years.”

Maybe I’m just thick. It seems that we have a number of original sources for the Bible. We have the Hebrew old testament (some actually written in Aramaic). We have its first translation into Greek – the Septuagint. And we have the various gospels and epistles written largely in Greek. These are Christianity’s historical connection to what was said and done in the origins of Judaism and then the Church.

The King James Bible (KJV) was translated from these (with references to the Latin Vulgate text) between 1604 and 1611. No doubt, it was a nice translation – but it was just a translation of the original writings. The KJV was not, itself, a new revelation.

Since then we have seen quite a few newer translations. I tend to prefer the English Standard Version (the version used in my Isaiah 6:8-10 reference above), or the New American Standard Version, though the most ubiquitous these days is the New International Version. Are these “better” translations? It depends on what we mean by “better”. If we mean that they more accurately reflect the true meaning of the original texts, then I have almost no basis to make such a declaration. If, however, we mean that they better reflect the original meaning of the text in a language that can be understood by modern readers, then the answer is undoubtedly (and emphatically) YES.

My point? When someone says they are producing a modern language version of the KJV, what they mean is that all of the other modern language translations are insufficient and do not accurately reflect the translational goodness of the KJV (I guess because it was “authorized”). Now, they may be right in this claim (I don’t know). But it is important to note firstly that the KJV is not the standard – the original writings are the standard. Secondly, that people who make such claims are rarely Biblical scholars who specialize in original languages – but rather backwoods Bible thumpers (and there’s nothing wrong with that) who don’t like the newer translations because they “lose” some traditional inferences drawn out of the 400-year-old language in the KJV filtered through modern vernacular … OK, perhaps I’m editorializing a bit.

To put things simply and bluntly, the further we get from 1611 the less understandable the KJV becomes. It is already quite beyond the understanding of many Americans (as is the language of Shakespeare, who wrote around the same time). To advocate its use now I think leads to dangerous places … like: “well, you may not understand what the words mean, so you have to just trust what the pastor says about it.” We’ve been down that road a number of times in Christendom – it never ends well.

This may well be the point of the “Modern English Version” – the modernized KJV in question. But why then relate it back to the KJV at all? One has to doubt that KJV-only types will go after the MEV … it’s newfangled after all.

Side note. I was reading my Bible (in the ESV) the other day and I got to Mark 4, where Jesus references the Isaiah 6 verse above. I had an odd mental connection at that point. What if all of this KJV-only business is simply a modern instantiation of Isaiah 6? What if there are people with their hands on a Bible, but are unable to read anything other than a 400-year-old language that they barely understand? Do they see and not perceive, hear and not understand?

Please recognize that I don’t ascribe any sort of special “revelation” to this notion – it was just a random and curious thought. Though, I will say that I’ve known more than one KJV-onlyist in my day, and have found them to hold some rather odd beliefs.

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