Authorized Review – Chapter 5: The KJV as a Second Language

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

Introduction

In chapter 5 of Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible, Ward finally says clearly what has been lurking in between the lines in first four chapters: that the KJV should not be read. See this syllogism he provides on page 79:

    1.      We should read the Scripture in our own language.

    2.      The KJV is not in our language.

    3.      Therefore we should update the KJV to be in our language, or we should read vernacular translations.

Ibid., 79

He concludes with this, 

“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.”

Ibid., 85

Ward arrives at this conclusion by building a case that the KJV is “no longer a vernacular translation,” and makes use of Glen G. Scorgie to seemingly say that the KJV is not “really a translation” (85). He, like many opponents of the KJV, makes comparisons between the KJV and the Latin Vulgate (62) and notes that the translators of the KJV “were not KJV-Only” (83). It shouldn’t need to be said, but I want to remind my reader that the difference between Latin and the vernacular tongue of the people during the time of the Vulgate is not even comparable to the difference between KJV English and modern vernacular English. It is also unfortunate that Ward, and many apologists for modern Bible versions, continue to compare their assault on the KJV to what happened during the Reformation. More importantly, Ward’s reader should be noticing the ramped up rhetoric of this chapter. He employs many of the Anti-KJV arguments such as the “KJV translators wouldn’t believe what you do” argument.

This chapter is possibly the most helpful to understanding the goal of Ward’s work thus far. In my opinion, it would have served well as the opening chapter. He reveals most clearly what he has been getting at up to this point, that the KJV as it exists now should not be read any longer. This is persuasive writing, and now the objective has become clear: to convince people not to read the KJV. Many people mistakenly label Ward as a “KJV advocate” or that Ward “loves the KJV,” and this chapter demonstrates clearly why this is simply not true. Ward’s solution to the 55% of the Bible readers is that 1) the KJV should be updated or that they should 2) read a modern translation. He argues that a,

“KJV with tons of footnotes offering contemporary equivalents of archaic words is not enough.”

Ibid., 75

Interestingly, Ward argues in this chapter that the KJV is not written in the same language as contemporary vernacular English. Now, I agree with Ward that the KJV is not written in our colloquial way of speaking, I don’t think anybody would argue that it is. The confusing part of this logic is how you go from the KJV being different from our vernacular English and the KJV being an entirely different language. Typically it is recognized that literary English and vernacular English are different. The argument that the KJV is literally a different language mimics the thought of Dr. Andrew Naselli, who says,

“I was raised on the King James Version, so I’m bilingual: I can speak KJV…the KJV was an outstanding translation for its time, but today – over four hundred years after it first released in 1611 – I think it belongs in a museum.”  

How to Understand and Apply the New Testament, 42

Responding to the Vernacular Argument 

In chapter 5, Ward presents what seems to be the purpose of writing Authorized, and primarily builds his argument upon the claim that the KJV is no longer vernacular English, and therefore should not be read. He provides a definition of “vernacular” from the New Oxford American Dictionary as a starting point for his argument.


“It refers to language ‘spoken as one’s mother tongue; not learned or imposed as a second language’”

Ibid., 68

Is this the argument then, that the KJV is not English? Are KJV readers bilingual? He seems to be leaning on the first part of the definition, which indicates that the language must be “spoken.” Since people do not speak KJV English, then it apparently qualifies as “a second language.” He continues on, hinting that the KJV cannot be understood and that it is Elizabethan English, which is untrue on both accounts. It is demonstrably different than Elizabethan English, and can be understood, as Ward has admitted all throughout his book. The basic argument seems to be that since we do not use the syntax and exact vocabulary of the KJV in our daily speech, that it is no longer acceptable as a translation. 

This is a fundamental flaw in Ward’s argument. Simply because modern English speakers do not speak in the King’s English, does not mean they cannot understand the King’s English. He uses Luke 14 to demonstrate that the KJV is written in a way that we do not speak any longer. Yet I fail to see how this is relevant at all. Let’s take a look at verse 1:


“And it came to pass, as he went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread on the sabbath day, that they watched him.”

Luke 14:1

It is true that we do not say “and it came to pass” in our daily speech, but does that mean we cannot understand what that means? We don’t use the term “eat bread” to mean “mealtime,” but we do say “break bread” to mean the same thing. The question that needs to be answered is not, “Is the KJV vernacular English,” it is, “Can the English of the KJV be understood?” More importantly, Ward fails to comment on the fact that our daily speech is not typically narrative, it is conversational. Most of what we say is not structured like the genres found in the Bible in any translation. The genre of Luke is not conversational, it is narrative. The phrase “and it came to pass” is found in all sorts of modern literature, including writings by J.R.R Tolkein. 

Ward is actually arguing that if a Bible translation is not written in our conversational English, it must be updated or retired. The ESV does not pass this test either. Take for example Matthew 12:44.

“I will return to my house from which I came”

Nobody talks like that in normal conversation, yet we do not say it is unintelligible. The point is that written English is different from spoken English. 

Ward adds another strange layer to his argument by saying that God didn’t originally speak in KJV English, but he did speak in modern version English.


“God did not say, “Thou shalt not commit adultery”; he said, “You shall not commit adultery.” He didn’t say, “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat”; he said, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden.” The KJV and modern translations are saying precisely the same thing, of course, but they’re speaking to different audiences. And only one of those audiences is still living.”

Ibid., 79

Setting aside the fact that nobody says, “You shall” do this or that in vernacular English (sorry NIV, ESV, and NASB, you need an update), notice that Ward says, “The KJV and modern translations are saying precisely the same thing”. I want to further emphasize that English did not exist at the time of the writing of the Bible. If the statements both mean the same thing, and God did not speak originally to the people of God in English, what is Ward even trying to say here? This is arguably one of the most confused statements in the entirety of the whole book so far. 

Ward presents his argument convincingly enough, but it fails the test of common sense. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of phrases in every translation that are written in a way that we do not speak in our daily vernacular. We do not say, “You shall not,” or “To you it has been given.” The simple response to Ward’s entire argument is this – does anybody actually expect the Bible to sound exactly like our vernacular speech? Does anybody want the Bible to sound exactly like their daily speech? The argument that the KJV is an entirely different language is nothing but rhetoric, and it should even be apparent to the reader that Ward has disproved that in the pages of his own book. 

Conclusion

One of the most challenging parts of reviewing this chapter of Authorized is the slew of disconnected thoughts and arguments. His reader has been told so far that the KJV is readable, that the “False Friends” don’t affect doctrine, and that most people read the KJV. Now, we are finally presented with Ward’s actual argument, that because we don’t talk in KJV English, it is not a suitable translation. An important reality that Ward seems to miss here is that written language and spoken language evolve separately, and are used differently. In writing, there are genres that employ different syntax and vocabulary than the syntax and vocabulary of our spoken language. In fact, Vernacular English is often categorized into its own genre distinct from literary English. In other words, we talk differently than we write. 

While Ward’s demand for Bibles to be written in our daily vernacular is strange and misguided, he also uses this chapter to take quick jabs at the KJV by referencing non-related issues such as textual criticism and modern translation methodology. He even takes some time to address the “KJV Only” crowd. He ends the chapter with conflicted messaging once again. 

“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.Thankfully, we don’t have to give up everything we valued in the KJV in order to gain the readability benefits of newer translations. The best way to honor the translation and revision work of the KJV translators is to allow it to continue.”

Ibid., 85-86

Ward seems to view himself as a modern day Martin Luther who is saving the church from captivity to the KJV, even saying himself “I can want no other.” Ward presents the case to his reader that it is a massive problem that people are reading the KJV. Even though Ward has all of the other modern options, he makes his reader believe that he has no other option for him and his kids, when no such problem exists. At the end of the chapter, Ward hints that the KJV simply needs an update, which Ward “graciously” offered his services to TBS a while back. At this point, Ward’s reader should be skeptical. Why is Ward so motivated to retire the KJV? What is really going on here? 

10 thoughts on “Authorized Review – Chapter 5: The KJV as a Second Language

  1. Yesterday I read the KJV translator’s letter to the reader. As much as I am in support of the TR and thus the KJV, I kind of think that the original translators might side with Ward here. I would be super in support of a new “exact translation” of the TR into English (to use the words of the KJV translators). It would be awesome if it could be sponsored in such a way so that no one holds the copyright. I don’t think we should disparage people from reading their KJV, but it would be awful nice to have something updated, even if it still kept the thees and thous for clarity and made up new English verb morphology to match Greek verb tenses that we don’t have – in other words, a new “Biblical English” for the 21st century.

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    1. Thanks for the comment Corey. I actually disagree. I do not think, in any way, shape, or form, that the KJV translators would agree with anything Ward is doing. The kernal of the idea is there, but Ward’s execution is completely against the spirit of the preface.

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      1. Many people today wrongly assume that the English of the KJV was contemporary English commonly spoken in 1611. This is not true. You can see this for yourself by reading the translator’s preface to the KJV; that was contemporary English in 1611, which is very different from the KJV. Wasn’t even true in Tyndale’s day. Tyndale deliberately introduced the thee’s, thou’s, and inflectional endings on verbs in order to preserve linguistic precision in the English that is present in the Hebrew and Greek. Any modern update (like the NKJV) that eliminated these features would, by definition, be inferior.

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      2. That’s why I said a new translation with those features would be most welcome. The TR is great. The idea of a biblical English is great. But could we have a new translation without apostasizing? Of course!

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      3. Hi Corey! I am definitely not making that argument – I don’t think any modern translations of the MT/TR are as good as the KJV. That’s my basic position on translation.

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      4. But it seems like this suggestion would just create another English translation with unnatural (in contrast to archaic) words and/or syntax that would have to be learned by readers. Why not just learn to read the King James Bible?

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      5. Well, my answer would be because I do think there are some ways that it could be improved for modern readers, and because I think it would be good for the current generation to undertake such a majestic project (no less than the recreation of our language in the forge of the eternal Word of God). There is no more problem with doing so than there was for the King James translators to do so just 12 years after the Geneva Bible was completed. And in fact there is a lot more reason to undertake the project now than there was in 1611.

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      6. Possibly. I personally very much like the NKJV, but I know some TR guys (yourselves included) aren’t too keen on it (haven’t watched the new videos yet). Also it doesn’t maintain accuracy between second person plural and singular or in verb tenses. And in addition, it is copyrighted, which is problematic.

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