Authorized Review – Chapter 2: Jokes & Anecdotes

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


In the last article, I addressed Ward’s evaluation of what is lost if the King James Bible is retired. 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, you know that the thrust of his work is identifying false friends and making the case that this is a primary reason to put down the KJV. He begins chapter 2 by proposing that the NIV is the probable successor to the KJV based on sales figures for the popular translation. The reader should note that sales figures are not a reason to adopt a translation. Christians should be concerned with whether or not the translation accurately translates the providentially preserved text from the original into a target language. Ward begins to develop his case for retiring the KJV in this chapter further by saying, “we’d better have very good reasons for giving it [KJV] up” (Ibid., 17). This gives the impression to the reader that Ward is about to present an argument that justifies all of the downsides to retiring the KJV. According to Ward, this reason is that people cannot understand it. It is “foreign and ancient.” As I noted in the introduction of my book review series, Ward’s own research and anecdotal experience seems to contradict this fact, but we will see how he develops this thought as we get further into the review. 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

Ward introduces his primary argument with a huge “if”. He proposes that if it is the case that the KJV is too difficult to read, then we should retire it. As the reader will see, support for Ward’s argument is entirely dependent 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 introduces his reader to yet another paradox, 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. 


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 growing up, 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 attempts 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 at this camp 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! In this chapter the reader begins to see the contradictions in Ward’s anecdotal evidence. This being the case, I encourage my reader to reflect on the value of such evidence as it pertains to Ward’s thesis.


The narrative that Ward presents 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. This is the entry point to Ward’s primary argument. Upon first glance, this standard could also result in every translation being considered for retirement if applied equally. The reality is, there are verses in every translation that require explanation. The NIV, for example, contains words such as “aloes,” “odious,” “stadia,” “sistrums” and so on. 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

The quoted material above is one of the Biblical proofs Ward uses to support his argument. The reader will see later that Ward will call upon Scripture to make the claim that if something can’t be understood, it cannot be of value to the people of God. It is important to recognize that Ward has relied heavily upon anecdotes to develop his narrative up to this point, and now he is beginning to invoke Scripture to support these anecdotes. In effect, Ward is saying, “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.


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 in addition to how Ward can make these types of claims about other Christians who read the KJV:

“I was a somewhat intellectually arrogant kid.”

Ibid., 25

This is in effect to say, “The only reason I thought I could understand the KJV was because I was arrogant.” While this is a very strange thing to say, I believe Ward has missed the point entirely. The problem he is presenting as a reason for retiring the KJV is simply a description of learning something new. Every Christian has to learn new words, no matter which translation they read. There are times when you are a child where you will misunderstand words and get them wrong, and not just in the Bible. This happens as easily reading a Goosebumps novel while you are learning to read. Getting words wrong is a part of the learning process.

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. Yet as Ward loves to say, this seems to be more of a problem of quantity, not kind. The problem of Christians misunderstanding the Bible is not unique to KJV readers. 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. 

I will pause my review for a moment to make a point. Every Christian needs to study and be taught. What I have a difficult time understanding is why one would argue that this should be done to a lesser degree. We have seen Ward admit that reading the KJV improves literacy among other things, so why advocate for its retirement on these grounds? 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. In fact, it seems like a huge positive that our children would be raised with a higher reading comprehension vocabulary. And if this principle were truly adhered to among the academic types, why do these scholars constantly advocate for learning multiple languages to read the Scriptures? The same scholars who claim the KJV is too difficult to read 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. As we have already seen, and will see more later in this review, the case that Ward is building contradicts itself to such a degree that he presents and refutes his own thesis within the cover of his own book.


It is clear that so far in Authorized, Ward relies heavily upon rhetoric, anecdotes, and narrative building 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. The reader is led to believe that Ward’s difficulty must be a problem for everybody. Again I will highlight that the people who are likely to be convinced by these arguments are people that do not actually read the KJV. 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. I tested all of Ward’s example passages against some commentaries that are available online for free and all of them provided helpful and thorough explanations of the passages in question.

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

Evaluating the Modern Claim of Better Data


It is often said that modern textual scholars know more than any other scholar in history because of new data and fresh methodologies. This is somewhat perplexing, because one would expect that the New Testament manuscript data available today would actually be less abundant due to the fact that hand copying ceased somewhere around the 1600’s. In fact, a number of manuscripts have been destroyed since they were first catalogued at the turn of the 20th century due to fires, poor storage, and other negligent causes. Additionally, this assumption of “new” data often fails to recognize that there is nothing new about these manuscripts. These manuscripts are certainly new to modern scholarship, but at one point in history, they were available to the people of God for consumption and use. 

Which raises the question, “Why did these manuscripts fall out of use?” Why do the manuscript discoveries of the 19th and 20th century vary so heavily from the massive amount of manuscripts that were being copied all throughout history? One theory is that the abandonment of these manuscripts allowed for the proper preservation of these texts. That God, knowing the foolishness and general illiteracy of scribes, providentially tucked away His Word in the sands of Egypt to protect His Word from corruption. This aligns well with the 20th century theory that scribes smoothed out the readings of the New Testament, developed the Christology, added in beloved pericopes, and generally altered the text to better defend the orthodoxy that developed after the Ancient period. If these texts, hidden away in caves and monasteries, represent the original, then scholars should be able to explain how each of the massive amount of variations developed over time. 

The Alleged Kaleidoscopic Nature of the Text

Theologically speaking, this is an atrocious theory. This idea essentially says that the original text was available only to the Egyptian Christians for a couple hundred years, and that the rest of the copying done was simply in error. Even within this time period, the copying of these manuscripts was so varied that these manuscripts have trouble agreeing with each other in a wealth of places. The majority of the extant data available lives on in less-ancient manuscripts. Due to the high evaluation of these Egyptian texts, the rest of the manuscript tradition is typically evaluated to be in error in one way or another. 

Sure, the later copyists may have retained the general idea of every verse, but if the Egyptian texts are truly original, then the majority of the 5000+ extant manuscripts are the product of revision gone wild. It is to say that scribes had no respect for accurate copying, or that they knew they were even supposed to be copying at all. Copying the exact text had to have been more of a suggestion than a rule. What about those Egyptian texts were so special, that essentially nobody copied them going into the early middle period? Well, one theory is that these manuscripts were so exquisite, that God decided to hide them from His church, so that when a chosen generation of scholars arose in the 1800’s, they could find them, and restore His Word to His people once and for all. 

Obviously this theory is problematic. Why would the closest form of the text to the original be found in a region where there were no apostolic missions, where the people did not speak Greek? Does it stand to reason that scribes, who did not know Greek, would do the best copying of the Greek language? Some have actually made the assertion that not knowing the language helped them copy accurately! If you’ve ever copied something in a language you don’t know, you know this is patently absurd. It actually makes sense that the most corrupt manuscripts might arise in an area that was constantly battling for orthodoxy, far from the center of apostolic Christianity. It may truly be that the Alexandrian scribes were the most careful, but the data seems to point in the opposite direction. In fact, if one were to take the majority of manuscripts, which continued to be copied outside of Egypt, and compare the Egyptian manuscripts against those, it seems reasonable to assume that something was awry in Alexandria at the time of the production of the beloved early manuscripts. 

I can speculate for days as to what might have influenced the unique text form of the Egyptian manuscripts, but that is not the point of this article. What most people forget to consider in data analysis, are events that might skew the data in one direction or another. In the case of early, extant New Testament manuscripts, many scholars and non-scholars alike fall into the trap of thinking that because something is extant, it must be more valuable, or the only representative data point from that time period. In this case, hyper-empiricism has influenced modern textual scholarship for the worst. If we don’t have the manuscript, we cannot verify that it ever existed. 

The Impossibility of Original Egyptian Texts

Yet it is impossible that manuscripts earlier than the Egyptian papyri and uncials simply did not exist at one point or another. And since the only New Testament author to make it to Egypt was Mark at the end of his life, it stands to reason that the Egyptian manuscripts were copied from imported texts. Which means that the Alexandrian text was more likely shortened than the majority text expanded. The importation of texts explains why there were two versions of the Gospel of Mark circulating in Egypt early on – one with the ending, and one without. Yet while all this is going on, the rest of the people of God continued copying the New Testament, outside of the petri dish that is Alexandria. Much of that data has been lost to persecution, fires, and other natural causes, but the fact stands, that the data existed at one point in time. What did those manuscripts look like, I wonder? Were they short, choppy, abrupt, and filled with large empty interruptions? I suspect not. 

Since the original text of the New Testament was inspired by the Holy Spirit, these other manuscripts were probably of remarkable quality, despite scribal errors and mishaps. In terms of the actual content, a consistent doctrine of inspiration would point to the reality that the original texts were not a crude human invention. The point is this, that the Egyptian manuscripts are not the oldest manuscripts. They are simply the oldest surviving manuscripts. They do not, and cannot, speak for the larger textual tradition which existed outside of Alexandria. The majority of the extant New Testament manuscripts had to come from somewhere, and that somewhere was certainly not Alexandria. So how do we explain this textual anomaly? Well you have probably heard the common theory which is filled with stories about scribal revision and smoothing, but that does not work with a conservative doctrine of preservation. If the majority of extant manuscripts are a lofty revision of the original, they must be rejected in total. The amount of revision that can be done in a thousand years would prevent the original from ever being found. And if these manuscripts are rejected, the only other option is a smattering of Alexandrian manuscripts that stopped being copied sometime after the fourth or fifth century for the most part, hidden away by God until the time came when the chosen scholars of the 19th century would rescue the blunder-filled efforts of scribes throughout church history. 

An unfortunate reality exists, if this is the case. The first being that God decided to preserve His Word by way of hide-and-seek. The second being that the corpus of early manuscripts is not deep enough to provide a meaningful text. And when I say meaningful text, I mean a printed text that scholars can point to and say, “this is the one!” And before somebody says “that is unreasonable!” Remember, that the scholars are allegedly attempting to reconstruct the original text of the New Testament. Either they will arrive at a product, or they won’t, but the fact stands that they should be trying. To balk at the idea of one text is to admit that the original cannot be found. The fact remains that there is not a single, agreed upon text in the majority of modern scholarship. 

The reason for that is because the Alexandrian manuscripts do not agree with each other enough to even demonstrate that they are directly related to each other. At best they are cousins. Which is why, when the Egyptian manuscripts are taken as a base text, a wealth of verses are left to speculation and uncertainty. There is simply not enough data in the Egyptian manuscript corpus to come to a conclusion on what text is the earliest and best in every case. One might consider himself to have found the text with “great accuracy”, but not without many places of uncertainty. The most complete copies of the New Testament from this locality and time period disagree with each other so greatly that they cannot even be properly called a manuscript family. If it were possible to arrive at a text that is original to Alexandria, it would have been completed a long time ago. 

That brings us back to the discussion of data, and how in the modern period, it is highly unlikely that our data is more valuable than the data that has been historically available. This is due to the fact that most of the ancient data has been destroyed. It is possible that it is equally valuable, but certainly not better. Considering the unfortunate reality that people tend to treat manuscripts in such a way that tends to their loss and destruction, it is a common fact of history that the number of manuscripts available today is a drop in a bucket of manuscripts that have been lost or destroyed. If one takes the number of manuscripts that have been lost or destroyed in the modern period, and applies that same logic to every generation in history, it is safe to say that a great number of manuscripts were lost and destroyed. It is possible that not a single manuscript has been erased from history, but that is highly unlikely, and even demonstrably false.


The purpose of this article is to call into question the assumption that modern scholars have better data than those of the past. Regardless of how one views the Egyptian manuscripts against the majority of manuscripts, the fact stands that the high evaluation of the minority of manuscripts is highly suspect. This conclusion can be arrived at without looking at all of the scholars of the Reformation period, who consistently reference “ancient approved copies” that support readings tossed out by modern scholars. As a result of this hyper-empiricist epistemology, the constant conversation of textual criticism is centered around, “How did this reading get added?” or “How did that reading develop?” 

This seems to be a confused effort from a theological perspective that says that God has preserved His Word. The word preservation itself means to be kept safe from evolution, change, and development. Yet the assumption of modern methods is that the general testimony of the thousands of manuscripts is one that has developed from some unknown original text. This is why these modern methods need a fresh understanding of what it means for something to be preserved in order to justify the effort.  And in the case that preservation simply means all the ideas are there, there really is no need for protest from the modern camp when a Christian wants to adhere to the traditional text of the Bible. It has all the right ideas and doctrines, and is therefore preserved. Such is the conundrum of the effort of modern textual criticism on the text of the New Testament.