In an article posted on the website “By Faith We Stand,” Mark Ward addressed an article published by the Trinitarian Bible Society called, “Five Questions about the Authorised (King James) Version.” If you haven’t read Ward’s article, I recommend reading it before continuing here. I wanted to offer a response to his response in this article. In the opening paragraph, Ward applies the term, “KJV-Only,” to the Trinitarian Bible Society. As a side note, the reason they are charitable is because the people at Trinitarian Bible Society are Christian, not because they are British. I’m sure you can find as many unpleasant Brits as you can Americans. In any case, Trinitarian Bible Society is not a “KJV-Only” organization. In fact, in the “About” section of the website, they list six objectives of the society which demonstrate as much.
- To publish and distribute the Holy Scriptures throughout the world in many languages.
- To promote Bible translations which are accurate and trustworthy, conforming to the Hebrew Masoretic Text of the Old Testament, and the Greek Textus Receptus of the New Testament, upon which texts the English Authorised Version is based.
- To be instrumental in bringing light and life, through the Gospel of Christ, to those who are lost in sin and in the darkness of false religion and unbelief.
- To uphold the doctrines of reformed Christianity, bearing witness to the equal and eternal deity of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, One God in three Persons.
- To uphold the Bible as the inspired, inerrant Word of God.
- For the Glory of God and the Increase of His Kingdom through the circulation of Protestant or uncorrupted versions of the Word of God
It is clear by the first objective listed that “King James Onlyism” is not their purpose. If this were their purpose, point one would read:
- To publish and distribute the Authorised Version throughout the world
The Trinitarian Bible Society does not promote “King James Onlyism” as it is defined by most people. Here is a quote directly from the TBS on the matter:
“The Trinitarian Bible Society does notCited from the Quarterly Magazine, Q1, 2007, Page 8
believe the Authorised Version to be a
perfect translation, only that it is the best
available translation in the English language”
In fact, they just completed the task of translating the Bible into Farsi, which is not the King James Bible. The fact that the society uses the same base Hebrew and Greek text as the Authorised Version does not make them King James Onlyists. That would be like a publishing house using the same underlying text as the ESV to make a new translation, and calling that a new translation of the ESV. In fact, most recently published Bibles use a printed edition of the modern critical text as a base text. In any case, it should be clear that a Farsi Bible is not an English Bible. The Reina Valera is not an NKJV. A simple question can be used to demonstrate this category error:
“Can a King James Onlyist advocate for, sell, and read other versions than the King James and be a King James Onlyist?”
If the answer is no, than Trinitarian Bible Society is not “KJV-Only.” If you answer yes, then this definition of “KJV-Only” applies to versions other than the Authorised Version, and the term is being employed incorrectly. If somebody wishes to insist on calling people who distribute and read other versions than the King James a “KJV Onlyist,” well, there’s not much we can do about that.
It should be clear that by producing, printing, and distributing other versions of the Bible than the KJV, TBS has proven themselves to be unabashedly not KJVO. In addition to this, the godly men and women at Trinitarian Bible Society do not claim to be King James Only nor advocate that one must be reading a King James to be reading the Bible. I understand that Ward’s ministry is to help retire the use of the AV and apparently all Traditional Text Bibles, but name calling and miscategorization are the signs of a failed argument. It is also important to remember that the Trinitarian Bible Society was founded in part due to certain other Bible Societies allowing Unitarian and Jesuit heretics to be members who sought to produce and distribute corrupt translations, not to advocate for “King James Onlyism.” Such an idea didn’t even exist during that time.
These miscategorizations and rhetoric employed by Ward should be enough to discredit the article altogether for the discerning reader, but if you want to see a response to some of his points continue reading. Ward’s stated goal in writing his response to TBS seems to be to convince the TBS to revise the AV by trying to demonstrate that people who advocate for the AV have trouble reading it. He does not provide any testimonials or data within his response to support this claim, so it is purely anecdotal. He states that,
“This TBS article’s mere existence is a powerful argument against its viewpoint”
Part of the problem is that we live in a culture that believes the KJV is as confusing as Chaucer or Shakespeare, and won’t open it as a result. I encourage those who think that to go and read some Chaucer and Shakespeare, and then read some passages from the Old and New Testament in the AV. Those same people that do not read the AV then go around and tell people that the AV is unintelligible and should not be read. There is certainly a need for an article like this from the TBS. The people that are the most loud about how difficult the AV is to read, are those that do not read it. I found myself perplexed at this perspective. It seems he is saying that people who read the AV, love the AV, and advocate for others to do the same, cannot understand it. Though the response to the TBS has many mischaracterizations and lacks the data to support Ward’s claim that TBS supporters believe the AV to be incomprehensible, there are some points that I have not addressed on this blog that I think will be valuable to my readers nonetheless.
Response to Point One
Ward begins by answering TBS on the question:
“Why update other translations and not the KJV?”
Ward gives a response to the TBS article before saying he’s “not willing to chase down an official answer to that question right now,” so I’ll avoid answering his points until he chases those answers down. He then asks a question that, according to Ward, has gone unanswered. I myself have heard this question answered plenty of times, so it could just be that Ward hasn’t engaged with those who actually read the AV, or he’s simply never heard the conversation take place. The question is:
“At what point will our English have diverged far enough from Elizabethan English to justify a revision or replacement of the KJV?”
First, it is important to point out that if the 1769 AV is Elizabethan English, Shakespeare might as well to us be as archaic as Chaucer. While the AV retains some of the prose of Elizabethan English which gives it the majestic feel that Ward claims to enjoy, it is not purely Elizabethan if Shakespeare is our guide – it’s closer to modern English actually. Take this passage of Shakespeare for example:
You shall find of the king a husband, madam; you, good must of necessity hold his virtue to you; whose sir, a father: he that so generally is at all times worthiness would stir it up where it wanted rather than lack it where there is such abundance.
It is true, that if the 1769 AV was written in Elizabethan English as is found in Shakespeare, it would indeed be quite difficult to understand for many readers. To a modern reader, Shakespearean word order may seem more random than calculated. It seems like figuring out the word order of the AV would be a simple task for somebody who has a basic understanding of the word order of Spanish, and especially easy for those that can diagram sentences in Greek. Children seem to figure it out without issues, anyhow. It also stands to reason that somebody who has taken such an interest in defining many of the “false friends” in the AV would, after some time, have a good handle on the vocabulary of the thing. In any case, the simple fact is that the syntax and vocabulary is in between Elizabethan and modern. Take a look at Psalm 119:86-87.
All thy commandments are faithful: They persecute me wrongfully; help thou me. They had almost consumed me upon earth; But I forsook not thy precepts
It should be evident that while the AV is beautiful, it is not written in the Elizabethan English of Shakespeare, so the identification of the AV as “Elizabethan” English seems to be more of a rhetorical device than anything else. For those that have trouble with the “thou” and “ye,” in English: if it starts with a “T” it’s singular, and if it starts with a “Y” it’s plural. Funny enough, the distinction between singular and plural “you” in the AV is actually quite a great reason to retain it because it adds clarity!
Now I’ll give my not-so-short answer to the question: At what point will the AV need to be retranslated?
If we take the most colloquial version of American English and lowest average reading comprehension level, one could easily make the case that now is the time. Though I imagine the same case would have to be made for the ESV if we apply that standard across the board. If the requirement for a Bible to be adequately intelligible is that it must be perfectly comprehensible at every word at a fourth grade reading level, I suppose we’re all stuck with the NLT. Even the NIV has words like aloes, dappled, filigree, forded, galled, offal, portent, and retinue. Pretty much every English translation of the Bible is off the table at this point. This is one of the challenges of Ward’s claim, that he hasn’t defined how much of the AV is unintelligible compared to other versions. I get the picture from Ward that every verse has a “false friend,” when some of the words he lists only occur once in the whole Bible. Two of the other words are words for livestock. Are there more difficult words in the AV than the ESV? Of course. Are there so many difficult words that it needs to be revised? I think not.
At what point will the AV need to be retranslated?
I’d like to point out the fact that this question itself is a bit beggy. Tucked away behind the scenes of this question seems to be the assumption that people cannot understand the AV now. This stands against common reason, as many, many people read and enjoy the AV. In fact, the polls show that of those who read their Bible, the AV enjoys a great percentage of these readers. Since Ward has not given us any data to evaluate, we are stuck going on his word that his “KJV Only” friends don’t seem to understand their Bible. This provokes an interesting question. What percentage of words do you need to understand for comprehension? What if somebody falls below that threshold for the ESV? Is it the case that the ESV must be retranslated, or that somebody needs to learn some new words? What is the most simple solution for those that actually desire to read the KJV? If the problem is with difficult words, is it simply not the case that Ward prefers a Bible with a smaller quantity of difficult words? The question also seems to assume that people cannot learn how to read the AV. I grew up in a family of teachers, and from a pedagogical standpoint, it’s sort of a chief blasphemy to tell somebody not to learn. This being the case, it does not stand to reason that the AV is so incomprehensible at this point in time that somebody with an average reading level cannot read it. This seems to be more of an issue with English pedagogy and language learning than an issue of translation. That may be a worthy thought to explore some time. Is the “incomprehensibility” of the AV a matter of an outdated translation, or poor pedagogy, or perhaps people are just unwilling to learn new words?
I get the sense that it may be the last option. In a world where Twitter is a chief means of communication, that really shouldn’t surprise anybody. In any case, I can offer a response that may serve the church well. It is not outlandish to think that even if somebody with an average reading level who has trouble with some of the words in the AV cannot use a dictionary to help them learn as they go. In fact, Ward says that such a solution has worked in his life! Most printed editions of the AV come with an archaic word list, and many even have difficult words rendered more easily in the margin. Most KJV text blocks quite literally have helps on every single verse, where it isn’t even necessary. Ward has actually provided a valuable resource in defining so many “false friends” in the AV in his attempt to prove it incomprehensible. If anything, he has provided an adequate solution to his problem, which requires much less time and effort than revising the AV – learn some vocab.
Since this doesn’t seem to be as much of an issue with translation as it is with English, humour me for a moment on this tangent. We all learn words in order to speak. We learn words as we go through life. We learn words in our Biology and maths classes in order to graduate school. We learn even more words as we enter the workforce. We even learn words in church, like “propitiation,” a word found in the ESV. Life is a constant exercise of expanding our vocabulary, and most of the time it’s accidental. I learned as many words working in the kitchen at Chipotle as I did in my psych 101 class at university. This particular jab at the AV could easily be confused for an attack on English pedagogy and even the ability of people to learn new words.
Just like a lawyer has specialized vocabulary, so does a plumber and a key maker and an insurance adjuster. We learn words all the time, so it should not be a difficult ask that we learn words for the most important aspect of the Christian life – hearing God’s voice. In fact, if you’re reading this article, I’m sure you, at one point, had to learn words like propitiation, justification, sanctification, inspiration, and so forth. These are all words we use frequently in a Christian context, and much of our Christian theological grammar is more complex than the archaisms of the AV. Many people even jump into Latin to better understand theological grammar. No matter which version one reads, he has to learn new words to read it. The real issue here seems to be that Ward finds the difficulty curve too steep for the AV.
The question also completely ignores the demographic of KJV readers the article is apparently pointed to, those that read it daily and raise their kids reading it daily. The simple reality is, that if you read the KJV growing up, you’ll likely learn all the words by the time you hit adolescence. If Ward is actually looking for solutions to this apparent problem, there is a simple one – catechism, not retranslation. That seems to be the straightforward Reformed answer, anyway. At what point are we going to ask the question, “Does Mark Ward have a problem with the AV, or just a problem with people learning English words?”
To respond to the initial question directly, the answer is simple: the AV will need to be retranslated when we are as approximately far from it linguistically as we are now from Chaucer. The AV wasn’t the colloquial form of English even when it was printed, and the plow boy certainly didn’t mind. Ward may be right that there will never again be a time where the church is united enough to produce a successor to the AV. I suppose that’s just another one of life’s happy accidents (and, yes, surely a plan of providence). In a spell of British humour, it seems Ward has produced an argument from providence in favour for the KJV.
Response to Point Two
“If it’s okay to put modern words in the margins, why not the text?”
The argument being made by the TBS is that the AV isn’t archaic enough to need a revision just yet. It is being made by people who know the meaning of, or can find the meaning of, leasing (Psalm 4:2;5:6; deceiving), kine (Deut. 28:18; Cattle), prevent (2 Sam. 22:19; hinder, obstruct, intercept, confront), besom (Isa. 14:23; broom), chambering (Rom 13:13; Sexual immorality; coitas), bewray (Isa. 16:3; uncover, reveal), beeves (Lev. 22:19,21; Num. 31:28-44; plural for beef, or cow), bolled (Ex. 9:31; budded, in bud), and so forth. Listing off archaic words doesn’t exactly speak to how we understand language either (though I suppose it is a decent rhetorical device). Context is just as important as vocabulary, especially in English. Again, this seems to be more of a confusion over how to learn and read words than a problem with the AV. At this point, I’m genuinely having a hard time understanding why somebody who loves the King James Version so dearly and has spent so much time learning all the difficult words wants it changed.
Ward proceeds to split his response into three sub points.
In sub-point one of Ward’s response, he addresses this question:
“How do you know what counts as archaic?”
TBS responds with a perfectly reasonable answer – it’s difficult to determine where the threshold is for archaic. In other words, it’s probably just easier to produce a new translation than revise the old. To see the TBS’ full response to the question, “Why Not Produce a Modern Version for the 21st Century?”, see this link. Ward responds with what seems to be some rather uncharitable jabs at the problems with “KJV Onlyists”, namely that they are ignorant of just about things pertaining to language and translation. He then provides a two links to online dictionaries. This may serve as a gentle reminder to the audience that he is the one saying the KJV is incomprehensible, not the people who, you know, read it. The real question that must be asked is, “Does a translation containing difficult words need to be retired?” I argue that no, this is not a good justification for retranslation. That is not to say that people do not struggle with words in the AV at all, they do. A major disconnect, is that the people who typically struggle with the AV are often times educated people. In other words, this problem of unintelligibility is expressed most loudly by those who are able, but simply unwilling to learn new vocabulary. Pastor Pooyan Mehrshahi, comments on the demographic who struggles most with the language of the AV:
Coming back to something I started with, the problem is not with the young; the problem is with our elders. Have you ever heard a child complain about the complexity of the language of the Authorised Version? They may say they do not understand; and then you explain it and they accept it. An educated Englishman, however, says he does not understand this Elizabethan language and even if you explain it, he still says he does not understand it. The difference is what is happening to a child or a young person: their English, their vocabulary is growing, and they are learning the language. A person coming from another culture, like myself, in learning the language, simply accepts it. I must learn the vocabulary of the Word of God, that is all! So it is that a child does not complain about this book. It is always, in my experience, adults, who are well educated, white, English, men and women, who complain about this book.Pastor Pooyan Mehrshahi delivered a sermon on the topic of the relevance of the AV in a young and multicultural society, published in the TBS magazine, and is well worth a read.
At this point, I have a really hard time believing that a person who knows what the word bewray means has any trouble reading the AV, but we’ll take Ward’s word for it. If I’ve learned anything, the people he calls KJV Onlyists are people that occupy a very slim demographic – those that aren’t aware of online dictionaries. Ward then offers his services to TBS to help them identify archaic words – an offer that might be received a little bit better if he didn’t spend an entire article miscategorizing them and then linking an online dictionary to help them understand the Bible they read and sell. Keep in mind, this article is addressed to “KJV Onlyists” who read and support the TBS. I think it’s a fair assumption to say that this particular audience can read the AV. Ward hasn’t yet provided any poll data or substantial evidence that they cannot, so let’s let common reason guide us.
In sub-point 2 of Ward’s response, he addresses this statement:
“Updates would be clumsy compared to the KJV”
Ward here seems to assume that the men and women at TBS believe that “God is incapable of speaking in modern English.” The AV is early modern English, if we’re being specific. Perhaps Ward is intending to say, “Modern Colloquial English.” In any case, the question is not whether the KJV is inspired, the question is, “Does it need an update?” The view of myself and TBS, is that no, it does not. Ward again seems to make another assumption in this short paragraph, that the folks at TBS believe that the “KJV is perfect” in the sense that it cannot ever be improved. Again, the question is not, “Is it possible to be improved?” it is “Should it be improved?” To the first question, it is possible, just not necessary. I’d be curious to see what entity could pull off the feat of revising the AV and getting people to adopt it on a massive scale. One of the reasons to retain the AV is that it is a standard English version that churches can memorize together. Introducing another translation simply adds more discord. To the second question, the view of myself and TBS is emphatically, no, not now. Ward and his colleagues seem to often miss the point that those in the “Confessional Bibliology” camp do not believe you have to be reading an AV to be reading God’s Word. The AV is simply, by our standards, the English version that should be used because it is an accurate translation of the Masoretic Hebrew and Greek Received text, and the best version in English that meets that criteria. Those are two entirely different discussions than the one being presented in this article by Ward, however. If I remember correctly, the discussion is not over the underlying text or the accuracy of the translation, it is over the intelligibility of the archaisms. Categories are important, dear reader.
The third and final sub-point under this section is an answer to the question:
“What do you do about spelling?”
Ward basically talks about how he prefers British spelling because the AV is the product of the crown, and how archaic spellings are “an unmistakable part of the character of the KJV.” It may be wise to point out here that people aren’t interested in the value of the AV as it exists in a museum, as an artifact of history. It is an accurate translation of God’s Word in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, and is therefore God’s Word – not a museum piece to admire from afar.
Response to Point Three
“What about other translations of the Masoretic Text/Textus Receptus?”
In the final leg of Ward’s response, he details the intricacy of the Bible translation process to a Bible translation society. At least Ward seems to have a sound grasp on British humour at this point. I’ll address the only real point made here, that Ward claims TBS falsely calls the NKJV a “Critical Translation.” Ward, in scholarly fashion, employs the rhetorical strategy of saying two things at once – that the TBS told a lie and that they didn’t tell a lie. Ward certainly has a right to disagree with the TBS, but I think he missed the point of what the TBS was saying. What the TBS did not mean is that the NKJV is based on the amoebic blob that is the modern critical text. What they were saying is that it employs modern translation philosophy, different from that of the standards set forth by the TBS.
The NKJV has a critical apparatus which details various readings from different text platforms. This is a question of translation philosophy, and TBS disagrees with the philosophy employed by the NKJV. Somebody reading their Bible should not have to choose a text like an RL Stein Goosebumps novel, especially if the critical notes associated with those variant readings are more befuddling than anything. I agree with Burgon, that these kinds of critical notes in a translation only serve to sow doubt to a reader. If a translator isn’t sure what the text is supposed to be, perhaps it’s wise not to force that uncertainty upon the person who is completely unequipped of making textual decisions with the limited apparatus of an English translation. And if Ward wants to advocate that Bible readers learn to use a critical apparatus to read their Bible, I can think of a more productive way to spend some time – learning a few vocab words. It may be a good conversation for another time to discuss the differences between the kind of notes in the 1611 AV and the NKJV, but perhaps it may be profitable to read some of the articles published by the TBS on the matter. The men and women at the TBS do know a little bit about translation methodology, after all.
*Incoming Rhetorical Device*
The response article ends with Ward expressing how disheartened he is. Somewhere in the distance I’m sure somebody is playing the world’s smallest violin. He then makes a heartfelt appeal to the TBS, after shamelessly mischaracterizing them, to stop what they are doing. So I will join with Mark Ward. TBS, I’m talking to you. Please stop translating the Bible and distributing it to the world. Please stop selling those beautiful calfskin Westminster Reference Bibles. Instead, rededicate your time to retranslate the AV so that men like Mark Ward can finally sleep easy at night. We need another English Bible! The church cannot spend another minute teaching their children English words and how to read their Bible, it is simply too arduous of a task. It is clear that the KJV is completely unintelligible and needs to be retired to a museum where we can love it properly. I also love the KJV with all my heart, I just cannot understand it! Restore the Word of God to the temple, TBS!