I recently wrote an article called, “A Low View of Parents and Pastors” and a reader of my blog commented and asked for some practical ways to help children learn the Bible. I am by no means an expert, but I was raised by educators and I might be able to offer some insights based on my personal experience. I’m sure some teachers can add more in the comments.
The basic argument that I have set forth is that if a child is raised reading a translation, they will know the vocabulary of that translation by the time they reach adulthood and even earlier. Since Ward has not produced any real data related to the actual literacy of KJV readers, I am stuck responding to an anecdotal argument with my own anecdotes. Carm.org, a site that has some valuable apologetic resources but is dogmatically modern critical text only, lists 171 archaic words in the KJV and their modern equivalents. Often times words considered “archaic” like “untoward” or “visage” are not actually archaic, just outside of the commonly used English vernacular. Pro-KJV sites like AV1611.com list many more, and most KJV’s have King’s English glossaries in the back which might include up to 700 words (many of which you probably know).
It is difficult to say exactly how many words in the KJV might be considered above the average reading level or archaic, but the number varies depending on whether or not geographical locations are listed or difficult words are included as archaic and how exactly one might define “difficult” or “archaic”. It is important to remember that many of these words are still in use today, especially in fiction and even video games. Part of the reason the KJV was easy for me to pick up, interestingly enough, was due to my video game hobby growing up.
The real issue is not necessarily “archaic” words, it is words that might be considered false cognates, or “false friends” as Mark Ward likes to call them. Normally, this concept is used in the realm of learning foreign languages so it’s application to the KJV is quite suspect. Despite what Ward says, the KJV is written in English. The only real challenge to reading the KJV for most people are words that have shifted in meaning, but these can be learned, and are still English. Unfortunately men like Mark Ward make the case that the smattering of “false friends” make the KJV altogether unintelligible, which is downright false and bordering on dishonest. The vast majority of words in the KJV are not “false friends.” In this article, I will examine several ways to help children and people of all ages learn how to recognize and understand these difficult words.
As I have stated before on this blog, the problem with not understanding the KJV is not one of textual criticism, it is one of language learning and vocabulary. In order to fluently read a language, most polyglots/language scholars say that you must recognize about 94% of the words on a page. This is important, because for some unknown reason, men like Mark Ward make it seem like 100% literacy is required for something to be intelligible.
While I think that Ward’s perspective demonstrates how little he actually understands about language learning and the English language overall, it is important to note that 100% literacy is never required in any language. Most seminary Greek professors can hardly get through one page of their Greek New Testament without stopping to check a dictionary and they still claim to know Greek. In Kostenberger’s advanced Greek textbook, he recommends an astonishingly low goal of 10 verses a day to maintain “proficiency”. Most native English speakers are at about a B2 fluency in English, which is levels beyond the average seminary Greek professor in Greek. The point is that many of these scholars have a strange understanding of language proficiency and learning and we should really take what they have to say with a huge grain of salt. Regardless, I want to present three practical ways to teach children the “historical” English of the KJV. Keep in mind this is catered to the average child, which means I am not taking into consideration the special needs of those with learning disabilities or other conditions that might hinder the educational process.
1. Teach Children How to Fish
As parents and Christians, we should know our Bibles well. That does not mean we know every single word. Nobody knows every definition of every word in their Bible, no matter what translation is used. A common tactic used by anti-KJV types is to take a vocab word out of its context and to quiz people on it. They gather lists of difficult words and ask people to define them, knowing that the average KJV reader will score 20% on their test. They then use this to say that KJV readers cannot understand the KJV.
If I asked the average person what dappled, portent, retinue, or satraps meant, I could make a solid case using Ward’s logic that the NIV is unintelligible to the modern English speaker. The simple solution to Ward’s perplexing non-issue is to teach children how to look up words they don’t know. This is a skill we all should have, but it is not a skill we know out of the box. Rather than teaching our kids that reading is impossibly difficult, we should give them the tools to learn new words. This follows the logic of the old proverb of teaching men to fish, rather than just giving them a fish.
2. Read to Your Kids, A Lot
The number one indicator for literacy is not how well children scored on their vocab tests. The average person is capable of memorizing ten words a week and writing the definitions down on paper. A better indicator of adult literacy is how often they were read to as a child. Even if you think your child cannot understand what you are reading to them, read to them anyway. Now apply this to Bible reading. Read the Bible to your kids daily. Take the time to define words that we do not use in our daily vernacular like “thee” and “ye.” My parents read to me until I was 9 years old, even when I already knew how to read. They only stopped when I complained that I “was too old” for them to read to me (and I probably was, but it is times like those I look back on fondly). If you are an adult and struggle reading your Bible, read your Bible more. This is also great advice for those that are learning other languages, like Greek. You will never attain proficiency in a language by rote memorization. You have to speak it, hear it, and read it.
3. Teach Your Children to Annotate Their Books
One of the best strategies for retaining information we read in books is annotating the margins or note cards and marking words or concepts we don’t understand. I personally also use sticky notes or color coded tabs to indicate places in books that I want to return to for review. One of the greatest mistakes we can make as teachers is simplifying literacy to vocab memorization. We need to be invested in learning how to learn, and teaching our children how to learn. One exercise that I used to do was mark words with a pencil that I did not understand, put a sticky note on the page, and then review the words with my mom after I had spent some time in the dictionary. This is a helpful exercise that can be applied to Bible reading and provide a great opportunity to be involved with your child’s education if you do not home school. A simple axiom to apply to this point is to be more involved in your child’s education. Behind every great adult reader is a parent that spent time with them as a child.
The solution to Mark Ward’s problem with the KJV is one that can be resolved by simply teaching children how to learn and being involved with their Bible education. On a somewhat related note, it is also imperative that we do not teach our children to be critics, but students. It is not our job to critique the Scriptures, but to learn from them. The critical schools have poisoned our brains to believe that we are to approach all texts as scholars and academics, including the Bible. We are taught to question the validity of a passage before reading it and to craft our own translation of a passage using a lexicon, even if we do not know the original languages. We are taught that “we know better” and that there is nothing valuable in the realm of language to be learned from the men of old. If you survey the modern landscape of scholarly theological works, they are filled with new translations and Greek word games. Whether you want to admit it or not, this is a fruit from the postmodern tree. This is a devastating perspective, and we are seeing the fruit of it now in our seminaries and churches.
We have to see past the rhetoric of men like Mark Ward and remember that God made us to be language learners. It is something that is truly remarkable about our brains. We often glance past the reality that children go from not understanding any language to being practically fluent by the grade school. The human brain is designed to learn language out of the box, and we need to apply that to learning the language of our Bible. To my reader, do not be discouraged by anti-KJV rhetoric, treat each new word as a way to expand your vocabulary and learn something new about what God is speaking to you in the Scriptures.