Authorized Review – Chapter 2: Jokes & Anecdotes

This article is the third in a series reviewing Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible. 

Introduction

In the last article, I addressed Ward’s evaluation of what is lost if the King James Bible goes away. In this article, I will review Chapter 2 of Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible, where Ward readies his audience for the pinnacle of his argument – false friends. If you follow Ward online, the thrust of his work is identifying false friends. He begins chapter 2 by proposing that the NIV is the probable successor to the KJV based on sales figures for the popular translation. He reminds his reader that “we’d better have very good reasons for giving it [KJV] up” (Ibid., 17). According to Ward, this reason is that people cannot understand it. It is “foreign and ancient.” Throughout the work so far, this continues to be his driving argument. 

“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?”  

Ibid., 18-19

I want to continue to press the reality that Ward’s argument is entirely dependent upon his narrative which is propped up on personal experience and anecdotes. He even admits that the KJV “falls in the same category, broadly speaking, in which our English belongs.” So far the reader has learned that 55% of English Bible readers use the KJV, Ward grew up reading the KJV, and that the King’s English falls into the same category of English that we speak today. The KJV is not old, middle, or Elizabethan English – it is early modern English written in a syntax and vocabulary that matches closely with the original languages. That is why the Trinitarian Bible Society has labeled it, “Biblical English.” Ward again drives home the point that, “I could not only understand but reproduce the major features of KJV diction as a young child.” Despite writing this multiple times in the book so far, Ward gives his reader a plot twist, which I will highlight below. In this chapter, Ward discusses his transition from advocating for the KJV to advocating against the KJV. I will organize my review of chapter 2 into Ward’s anecdotes, his narrative, and his problem. 

Anecdotes

According to Ward, two major life experiences led to his shift in thinking. The first is that Ward has spent more time than the average Christian studying the Bible in various translations. The second is that he has spent years sharing the Gospel. In his experience, he argues that learning the English of the KJV is not a reasonable expectation to impose on the average Christian. Here’s the plot twist: He then admits that he actually has trouble reading certain passages in the KJV. After repeatedly stating that he understood the KJV, he now says he actually cannot. He recalls an experience at a summer camp, where not one person of 10,000, pastors included, could understand the phrase, “fret not thyself in any wise to do evil.” This is a perfect example where Matthew Henry could have helped Ward understand this “cryptic” passage. “Do not envy them their prosperity.” 

Ward seems to convince his reader, with anecdote, that the passage is impossible to understand in the KJV. Gill, Calvin, and Henry all share the same opinion on the verse, so perhaps that is more of a testimony to the quality of modern scholarship than anything else. I’m more concerned that there were seminary trained pastors and college students that couldn’t understand this passage. It seems that somebody at that camp should have had access to a commentary, at least. Ward ends by presenting his reader with a strange hypothetical conversation between a child and an adult, where the child is presented as a guru of sorts by saying, “Well why didn’t the KJV translators just use the word I think they should have used?” This all contributes to the narrative that drives the primary argument of Ward’s book – that not only is the KJV too difficult to understand, the KJV translators could have used easier words and syntax. Even a child knows that much! 

Narrative

The narrative is that while most people can understand the KJV, there are verses that require a second look, and that many readers will not understand certain verses the first time around, if they ever do understand them. Ward seems to think that this is a good reason to jettison a translation. If this were the standard, every single modern translation would also need to be tossed. The reality is, there are verses in every translation that require explanation. There are difficult concepts and words in the Bible that do not appear in our common vernacular. If we step outside of Ward’s narrative for a moment, it is plainly evident that the Bible isn’t easily understood in every place. 

“As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood”  

2 Peter 3:16

It is important to recognize that Ward has relied heavily upon anecdotes to develop his narrative. “These people I knew once didn’t understand this verse.” He is beginning to make the case to his reader, that while most people read the KJV, many of them don’t even know they can’t understand it. This is likely not Ward’s intention, but the message he communicates is quite insulting. 

Problem

The problem that Ward presents to his reader is that people that read the KJV cannot understand it, and sometimes don’t even know they cannot understand it. As a KJV reader, this feels extremely condescending. It assumes that the average Bible reader doesn’t try to understand difficult passages, or is too dull to know when they cannot understand a passage. Ward offers his reader some perspective on himself, which may help understand his book:

“I was a somewhat intellectually arrogant kid.”

Ibid., 25

Every Christian has to learn new words, no matter which translation they read. It seems the argument that Ward is making is that the average Christian must learn more words to read the KJV than they would with modern translations. The problem of Christians misunderstanding the Bible is not unique to KJV readers, however. There are many times where Christians believe they understand a passage, but then a pastor or friend comes along and informs them that they do not. If we again step outside of Ward’s narrative, it should be common sense that Christians do not understand the Bible perfectly in a vacuum. 

Every Christian needs to study and be taught. It is true that KJV readers must learn more words than modern Bible readers, but that is not a convincing argument for the KJV being put behind glass in a museum. It is also interesting that the same scholars who reject the KJV for this reason also recommend learning the original Biblical languages to “go back to the Greek and Hebrew.” In any case, Ward’s argument takes the anecdotal experience of the few and projects it to the many. There is a simple solution to this problem: let the KJV readers read the KJV, and let those that do not want to read the KJV read something else. 

Conclusion

It is clear that so far in Authorized, Ward relies heavily upon rhetoric and spinning a narrative to convince his reader that the KJV should not be read. In this chapter, his primary argument is that KJV readers may think they understand what they are reading, but actually do not. Since Ward says this was a problem for him, it must be a problem for everybody. It seems he is attempting to convince non-KJV readers that KJV readers cannot understand the Bible they read. He uses an anecdote of a summer camp where not a single person, pastors included, could understand Psalm 37:8 to support this point. Ward uses personal experience and anecdotes to establish his premise to build a narrative that the KJV simply cannot be understood. What Ward seems to miss is that the average Bible reader cares deeply about the words in the pages of their Bible. They study the Bible. They try to understand the Bible. It is not prideful to have a sound working knowledge of Scripture. 

The most off-putting part of Ward’s book so far is the juvenile tone he takes. He inserts poorly placed and in my opinion, inappropriate jokes and commentary in the middle of a very serious topic. In a piece of persuasive writing, Ward discusses his failed attempts at impressing girls and his “smug satisfaction” of being intellectually superior than his peers in grade school, among other things. His premise for chapter 2 is also incredibly demeaning and insulting to the people who read the KJV. Ward discusses how smart he is, how much he has studied, and his self-proclaimed expertise in linguistics in order to make the concluding point: that God broke him of his pride and showed him that he didn’t actually understand the KJV. Ward seems to be making the point that if he, in all of his learning, cannot understand the KJV, neither can his reader. Thankfully he clarifies that,

“just because I was arrogant and ignorant doesn’t mean all other KJV readers are the same.”  

Ibid., 27

3 thoughts on “Authorized Review – Chapter 2: Jokes & Anecdotes

  1. Taylor,
    I was raised in a KJVO home, held that position for many years, pastored in a church influenced by the arguments…and hold great respect for the KJV to this day. I have also known Mark Ward for multiple years through his writing and email interactions on varied topics. He has proven to be a humble, conservative, lover of God’s word and church. I mention this simply to show that I am not a drive by contributor here.

    That said, I want to address a needed clarification.

    You write:

    “The problem that Ward presents to his reader is that people that read the KJV cannot understand it.”

    But I read the book, and I’m pretty sure that’s not what he said. What he said was more careful and measured.

    Here are some of his quotes; “The KJV as a whole is certainly not in the category of utterly unintelligible or completely foreign. Even the people whom the KJV translators called “the very vulgar”—the least educated, the least socially influential—can and do learn “for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son,” and they get precious gospel meaning out of it.” (16)

    “The KJV is not unintelligible overall. As I said earlier, the fact that 55 percent of today’s Bible readers are reading the KJV suggests that the KJV is *not* impossibly foreign and ancient.” (118)

    “Once readers get a tiny bit of practice, most [Elizabethan words]” are “perfectly intelligible.” (79)

    “Unlike Beowulf, the KJV is not unintelligible.” (19)

    And here is probably the key paragraph:

    “In countless places, the KJV does not fail to communicate God’s words to modern readers; I’m eager to acknowledge this fact, because I grew up on the KJV and it was God’s tool to bring me new life. But in countless places, it does fail—through no fault of the KJV translators or of us. It’s somewhere between Beowulf and the English of today. I therefore do not think the KJV is sufficiently readable to be relied upon as a person’s only or main translation, or as a church’s or Christian school’s only or main translation.” (85)

    So he’s not saying that “people who read the KJV cannot understand it.” He’s saying that they can understand most of it but that there are a sufficient number of dead words (like “beeves”) and false friends (like “halt”) that the plow boy can’t understand that it’s time for change.

    I found his style to be refreshingly gentle and fair, which is honestly something I found attractive. I have been embarrassed by the average tone of those from “my background” when defending the KJV.

    May God give us grace to never allow tradition or peer pressure to keep us from doing what is best for His people. I’m talking to myself as much as to anyone on this.

    I don’t post often, so apologies up front if this is a bit verbose.
    Thank you.

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    1. My point is that while he says that, his actual argument pushes the idea that the KJV is misunderstood and KJV readers don’t even know it. That is the whole premise of chapter 3. Part of my review is to point out this rhetoric.

      Thank you for the comment – I understand the desire to give Ward the benefit of the doubt, but it is clear that he is saying two opposite things simultaneously.

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  2. My own anecdote from my pastoral ministry in rural Illinois years ago goes like this: I was teaching Ephesians chapter 2 on a Wednesday night, and after reading it, I asked some very simple, surface-level questions about the text. All but one in the crowd were using the KJV. One lady had an NIV (I was using the ESV). Only the lady with the NIV could answer my questions. My conclusion was similar to Ward’s at the time. Upon further examination, though, the problem could be rooted in the fact that the questions I asked were using surface-level vocabulary from MY translation, and the NIV was close enough that the lady saw the answers. If I were teaching and posing questions from the KJV, the situation might easily be reversed.

    I see this in the different words used in Psalm 19:9. The KJV uses “judgments” (and that really is the correct word), but the ESV uses rules (quite different). So if I start asking questions about the judgments God decrees for various sins, and why they are true, the ESV people will be totally lost.

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