Is the English of the KJV Bible No Longer Understandable to Today’s Readers?

authorized-ward-2018We are beginning to look at a new book that examines Christians’ use and misuse of the King James Version of the Bible. The book is Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible, written by Mark Ward and published by Lexham Press (2018).

In our last post we examined the first main chapter, where the author makes five main points concerning what the church stands to lose if she abandons the KJV. These were good points with valid arguments and strong conclusions.

But, we already pointed out that this is not where Ward stops. He ended that chapter with these questions:

Do the negatives of losing the KJV outweigh any positives that might be gained from reading newer translations? Everyone who cares about reading the Bible in English needs to answer the healthy, diagnostic question: What do we do with the KJV in the twenty-first century?

In chapter 2, “The Man in the Hotel and the Emperor of English Bibles,” Ward begins to answer that question. And his main point in this chapter is this: the KJV is no longer understandable to the majority of readers – Christian and non-Christian – in our age. It’s language is “too difficult to follow. It’s foreign and ancient.” Therefore, today’s Christian needs to use a modern translation, whether it is the NIV (New International Version), the NASB (New American Standard Bible), the ESV (English Standard Bible), or one of the many others available in our day.

The author has much to say about the difficulty of the language of KJV English to the modern reader. In subsequent chapters he is going to dissect the problem as he sees it in more depth. But in chapter 2 he mainly draws on his own experience, both as a Christian who grew up on the KJV himself and often misunderstood what he read, and as a Christian counselor who witnessed many young believers struggling to understand the KJV used in youth camps.

There is much I could quote from this chapter to demonstrate the author’s argument, but I will limit myself to these paragraphs so that you can see where he is going with his main argument. And we ought to consider what he says and begin to draw up our own counter-argument, if we do in fact disagree with his premise.

Here are Ward’s thoughts after he has acknowledged that God’s Word is “insistently foreign and ancient” because it is rooted in God’s saving work in history with an ancient people (Israel):

But one genius of the Christian religion, as opposed to many other faiths, is that it is transnational and multiethnic. God’s words are meant to go everywhere, and everywhen – from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, to the uttermost eras of history (Acts 1:8). Christ’s followers are not a nation like the Jews; they are told to disciple all nations. People from every area of the globe will worship the Lord at the last day. That’s why, while Muslims consider only the original Arabic of the Qur’an to be the words of Allah, Christians have translated the Bible into thousands of languages – and have considered every one of those translations to be God’s word.

Christians have always believed that God’s foreign and ancient word can and should speak to believers now. Five hundred years ago, the Reformation brought vernacular Bibles (Spanish, French, German, English, etc.) back to the peoples of Europe and, eventually, the world – after a long period in which the Latin Vulgate was all most people had access to, if you could even call it ‘access.’

So if the KJV is indeed too difficult to understand for modern readers, we’ve got a significant problem – the most significant problem a translation can have: What’s the point in using a translation in old English that people can’t understand anymore? [pp.18-19]

Published in: on April 4, 2018 at 11:06 PM  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. The men who worked on bringing the KJV to publishing were largely concerned about getting the Bible to the common people in a language they could understand. It’s sad so many think of the KJV as the only trustworthy Bible – I think the translators would shake their heads.


  2. […] In our last post we examined his second chapter, where he laid the groundwork for this criticism. In chapter three – “Dead Words and ‘False Friends,'” – he gives some detail to prove his point that the KJV is no longer understandable by most people today. […]


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