Christians, especially those in the Reformed circles, have been, historically, most inclined to pursue knowledge and truth over and above movements driven by spiritualism and emotionalism. Over the last several years, there has been a trend away from this path at every level of our society, and inevitably this has impacted the church. As our society becomes less Christian, it follows that people are less concerned with truth and the pursuit of knowledge. This is why many of us homeschool our kids or enroll them in trusted private institutions. Despite the precedent being set for higher educational aspirations, more and more frequently I have seen Christians advocate for Bibles that are easier to read on the grounds that “The Bible should be written in the easiest possible English”. This, I imagine, comes from the well-intentioned desire that people with all levels of education can have access to the Scriptures. This is a great desire, though I’m afraid the approach we have taken as a church is not actually beneficial.
Many Christians are quick to criticize public schools when they teach to the “lowest common denominator” and argue correctly that it inhibits children from exceeding expectations. I find it reasonable to apply this to the Christian church as it pertains to Bible comprehension. It follows that if we expect less of Christians, we will receive less. Many contributors in this space have said that the KJV is written at a 5th grade reading level, while others place it closer to 12th grade. For reference, most middle school and high school curriculum include in part or in whole, writings from Shakespeare. If we take the more conservative estimation and assign the KJV a 12th grade reading level, we should also assume that this is well within the reach of the vast majority of English speaking Christians, right? It doesn’t seem overestimating to assume that the average Christian can read at a 12th grade level.
Despite this assumption being relatively innocuous, it seems to be a controversial take in the last several years. Many advocates of modern translations have, I suppose indirectly, made the case that a 12th grade reading level is too high a bar to set for Christians in modernity. If the KJV is said to be too difficult to read, then what is inadvertently communicated is that Christians should not be expected to read at a high school level. This is the level, by the way, that is expected of a 17 year old graduating public high school. And that is assuming the highest level of difficulty for the KJV.
One solution that I have not seen entertained by the “KJV is too difficult” crowd is increasing the reading comprehension of the church. If it is the case that the average Christian does not read at the level of a nearly graduated high schooler, we do not have a KJV problem, we have an education problem. The assumption that the average Christian will find the KJV incomprehensible also comes with it the assumption that these people are comprehending language below the level of a high schooler. If this is truly the case, this is shocking, and something should be done about it, because the KJV is not going to be the only thing on the list of “works Christians cannot read.”
Perhaps the “KJV is too difficult” crowd is correct, and this is the canary in the coal mine for where the Christian church is at right now. If it is the case that Christians do not have the mental capacity to take on the English KJV, it is also the case that there are many, many works that they also do not have access to. Hidden in the assumption that the average Christian cannot read the KJV is also the assumption that the average Christian is effectively reading at a lower level than a publicly educated high schooler. This, to me, is deeply concerning if it is true.
I tend to be far more optimistic, and have far more faith in the Christian church. I have found the men and women in churches to be more studious and concerned with not only educating themselves, but educating their children than what has been presented by the “KJV is too difficult” crowd. Rather than assuming Christians simply do not have the mental capabilities to read the KJV, I believe they are able, especially in reformed circles. So rather than advocating for easier Bibles, perhaps it is more productive, and more beneficial to advocate for better readers.
2 thoughts on “Produce Better Readers, Not Easier Bibles”
Amen. We do not have a KJV problem, we have an education problem. Reading levels in our culture are dropping, but within the Church we should fight against this societal trend. Martin Luther and the Reformers were big advocates of an educated public, so everyone could read the Scriptures for themselves; that need may be more urgent today than it was then.
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At the church I’m serving at, there are huge issues with Biblical literacy. The notion here is that someone should read the NIV or NLT as they are “easier English”. However whether the person is 7 years old or 70, they struggle when hitting words like Pharisee, Galilee, Righteousness, Apostle and so forth. No matter the translation or translation philosophy being formal or paraphrase, this is a huge issue and problem.
Many haven’t practiced reading outloud let alone reading the Bible outloud so their sentences and reading are very broken. There is a ton of education just on reading outloud that people aren’t getting in their development and this isn’t just a today’s school issue. Those who are in their 60’s an 70’s haven’t practiced reading outloud.
I can see why many feel something like the KJV is difficult, but to be honest, ALL translations in practice are difficult.
But the few people who are Biblically literate and have practiced reading the Bible outloud don’t seem to have a problem with any translation, KJV or otherwise.
I grew up in a family that read the Bible outloud every night and have practiced that in my marriage as well. It was normal to read outloud and continue in this practice.
I would agree that we as a church are trying to make “easier versions” but I’m not sure in practice it’s actually doing anything meaningful from what I have experienced.
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