Sunday 2 December 2012

Why don't British evangelicals use the Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible?


The short answer is that they believe it to be inaccessible and off-putting. 

But in this they are mistaken; and as proof I have found an unsurpassed authority: Dr Martin Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981). 


I have been listening to Lloyd-Jones sermons over the past few weeks (there are about 1500 available on )

If he was not the greatest preacher of the twentieth century, then my imagination fails to conceive of how anyone could be better.

Anyway, the point is that he was a huge success as a preacher, and always used the AV as his primary text.

And Lloyd-Jones was a nonconformist Calvinist - not an Anglican. 


Indeed, in the classic evangelical style of expounding scripture - short passages, often a single verse, maybe a couple of words - there is ample opportunity for explaining any difficulties with unfamiliar language.

But why use the King James Bible in particular? Lloyd-Jones explains 


Part of an address given at the National Bible Rally in the Royal Albert Hall, London, on October 24, 1961 - emphasis added by me. 
I suppose that the most popular of all the proposals at the present moment is to have a new translation of the Bible.... The argument is that people are not reading the Bible any longer because they do not understand its language—particularly the archaic terms. What does your modern man...know about justification, sanctification, and all these biblical terms?
And so we are told the one thing that is necessary is to have a translation that Tom, Dick, and Harry will understand, and I began to feel about six months ago that we had almost reached the stage in which the Authorized Version was being dismissed, to be thrown into the limbo of things forgotten, no longer of any value.
Need I apologize for saying a word in favor of the Authorized Version? Well, whatever you may think, I am going to do it without any apology.
Let us, first of all, be clear about the basic proposition laid down by the Protestant Reformers: we must have a Bible which is, as they put it, “understood of the people.” That is common sense; that is obvious.
We all agree, too, that we must never be obscurantist. We must never approach the Bible in a mere antiquarian spirit. Nobody wants to be like that or to defend such attitudes.
But there is a very grave danger incipient in much of the argument that is being presented today for these new translations. There is a danger, I say, of our surrendering something that is vital and essential.
Look at it like this. Take this argument that the modern man does not understand such terms as “justification,” “sanctification,” and so on. I want to ask a question: When did the ordinary man ever understand those terms?...
Consider the colliers to whom John Wesley and George Whitefield used to preach in the eighteenth century. Did they understand them? They had not even been to a day school, an elementary school. They could not read, they could not write. Yet these were the terms which they heard, and the Authorized Version was the version used. The common people have never understood these terms.
However, I want to add something to this. We must be very careful in using such an argument against the Authorized Version, for the reason that the very nature and character of the truth which the Bible presents to us is such that it is extremely difficult to put into words at all.

We are not describing an animal or a machine; we are concerned here with something which is spiritual, something which does not belong to this world at all, and which, as the apostle Paul in writing to the Corinthians reminds us, “the princes of this world” do not know.
Human wisdom is of no value here; it is a spiritual truth; it is something that is altogether different. This is truth about God primarily, and, because of that, it is a mystery. There is a glory attached to it, there is a wonder, and something which is amazing.

The apostle Paul, who understood it better than most, looking at its contents, stands back and says, “Great is the mystery of godliness” (1 Tim. 3:16).

Yet we are told, it must be put in such simple terms and language that anybody taking it up and reading it is going to understand all about it.

My friends, this is nothing but sheer nonsense!
What we must do is to educate the masses of the people up to the Bible, not bring the Bible down to their level.
One of the greatest troubles in life today is that everything is being brought down to the same level; everything is cheapened. The common man is made the standard of authority; he decides everything and everything has to brought down to him. You are getting it on television and in newspapers; everywhere, standards are coming down and down.
Are we to do that with the Word of God? I say, No!

What has happened in the past has been this: an ignorant, illiterate people in this country and in foreign countries, coming into salvation, have been educated up to the Book and have begun to understand it, to glory in it, and to praise God for it.

I am here to say that we need to do the same at this present time. What we need is, therefore, not to replace the Authorized Version.
We need rather to reach and train people up to the standard and the language, the dignity and glory of the old Authorized Version.
Very well, my friends, let me say a word for the old book, the old Authorized Version. It was translated by fifty-four men, every one of them a great scholar, and published in 1611.
Here is another thing to commend it to you: this Authorized Version came out of a time when the church had not yet divided into Anglican and Nonconformist. I think there is an advantage even in that. They were all still as one, with very few exceptions, when the Authorized Version was produced.
Another important point to remember is this. The Authorized Version was produced some time after that great climactic event which we call the Protestant Reformation. There had been time by then to see some of the terrible horrors of Rome and all she stood for. The early Reformers had too much on their plate, as it were; Luther may have left many gaps; but when this translation was produced, there had been time for men to be able to see Rome for what she really was.
These translators were all men who were orthodox in the faith. They believed that the Bible is the infallible Word of God and they submitted to it as the final authority, as against the spurious claims of Rome, as against the appeals to the Church Fathers, and traditions.
Here were fifty-four men, scholars and saintly, who were utterly submitted to the Book. You have never had that in any other version. Here, and here alone, you have a body of men who were absolutely committed to it, who gave themselves to it, who did not want to correct or sit in judgment on it, whose only concern and desire was to translate and interpret it for the masses.
In view of all this, my argument is that the answer does not lie in producing new translations. They are coming out almost every year, but are they truly aiding the situation?
No, and for this reason: men no longer read the Bible not because they cannot understand its language, but because they do not believe in it.
They do not believe in God; they do not want it.

Their problem is not one of language and of terminology; it is the state of the heart.
Therefore, what do we do about it? It seems to me there is only one thing to do, the thing that has always been done in the past: we must preach it and our preaching must be wholly based upon its authority.


sykes.1 said...

I have 12 different Bibles in my bookcase, all conservative, relatively literal translations. The AV is no more difficult to understand than any of the others. I also note that even conservative modern translations tend to choose words that diminish God's presence. The best example is replacing the "Spirit of God" in the opening lines of Genesis with "a great wind."

In the America, Protestant. Catholic and Orthodox Churches all accept the Revised Standard Version (not the NRSV), so that translation has merit, too.

The best argument for the AV is the one given: the seriousness of purpose and belief of the 54 translators. Most modern translators are likely to be nonbelievers despite their protestations otherwise.

Brett Stevens said...

The problem with democratization is that it's a form of digestion. You bring the language down to the lowest common denominator level, which allows them to mistake simplistic concepts for the real deal, and then they reduce those simplistic concepts and claim that there was never anything to them. This allows them to adopt the democratized form as a type of flavor, and use it to conceal the agenda that the lowest common denominator always have, which is rampant individualism resulting in parasitic collectivism.

Great post!

Matthew C. said...

I've always felt the King James version was simply leagues beyond the other translations, in inspiration, majesty and beauty. Other translations feel like -- translations -- and not particularly good ones.

dearieme said...

Why would anyone want to read a bible written in local government English? Does God deal in by-laws?

Samson J. said...

Well, I can't stand the KJV and never use it, unless to quote a particularly well-phrased passage for some reason. It just ain't English - not the English we use today, anyway (obviously it is a *form* of English, a pre-modern form).

I get what the writer is trying to say - that if we find the language hard to understand we should raise ourselves up instead of dragging the text down - but I just don't see the point, in 2012, of putting the effort into learning a dead dialect.

If I'm going to use something besides the NIV, I actually prefer the CEV (which is more or less on the opposite end of the linguistic spectrum from the KJV), because it feels like the text is truly speaking to me; the words feel *real* in a way that the archaic KJV cannot be. I say this to say that while some people feel the majestic language of the KJV makes it feel more awe-inspiring, I find the opposite: I don't feel like God is really speaking to me if I can't even understand what He is saying.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SJ - I think if you reflect on what you are saying, you will recognize the problem of this attitude. You personally may find it impossible to use the AV - but the *reasons* you are giving here are such as lead to all kinds of other problems. Maybe you should simply say this is a deficit in yourself, about which you are sorry - but do not defend it?

Reader of the KJB said...

I find that the most difficult parts of the KJB to understand are the Pauline epistles.

Bruce Charlton said...

@reader. I agree - especially Romans; and also the Book of Revelation.