Did you know the King James Version of the Bible was first published 400 years ago? Happy birthday, KJV!
King James and I go back a long way. Growing up, the KJV was always used in our church and Sunday school. (There wasn’t much choice back then.) As I mentioned in an earlier blog, during my senior year of high school I read the Bible front to back, kind of as a project. Reading five chapters a night, it took about nine months. I understood very little of what I read, however, and when finished I stuck the Bible back on a shelf and wondered what to read next.
Then in 1978 I started attending a church where the Bible was taught in a practical, relevant way for everyday life, using a modern translation – the New American Standard. For me it was almost like dying and going to heaven. God, I realized, doesn’t speak in only 17th century Elizabethan English. When I prayed, I didn’t need to “beseech” Him, and I needn’t refer to the Lord as “Thou.” He was perfectly okay with “You.”
That’s not to knock the KJV. Some passages in the oft-called “Authorized translation" still resonate best, like Psalm 23. Its wondrous, poetic composition -- “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside still waters…” -- still gives me a sense of peace and comfort.
But the original manuscripts that merged to make up our Bible were written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, common languages to that area at that time. God desired to give His Word to everyone, not just to professional theologians and clerics.
I appreciate tradition and literary form. In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, we wouldn’t want to rewrite, “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo,” to read “Hey…Romeo! Where you at?” But even though I once majored in English, I dislike reading Shakespeare because I don’t understand half of what he wrote.
So I’m thankful for the KJV (which by the way has undergone numerous, significant revisions itself over the years). But even more grateful we’re no longer confined to reading verbiage, so familiar to people in the early 1600s, that presents considerable consternation for many of us in the early 21st century.Its progeny – like the New American Standard, the New International, New Living Translation, Revised Standard, even the Amplified – are continuing to carry out the mission: Revealing to us who God is, helping us understand how we are designed, and telling what He expects of us.