[dropcap]I[/dropcap] have chosen, for many years now, to read the King James Version of Scripture to my children during our daily morning Circle Time. This is not to say that the KJV is the Only True Version. I attend a church that utilizes the ESV, although, being a Biola graduate, I’m fairly well obligated to use the NASB. For our Romans class, our oldest son reads the week’s passage every day, each day in a different translation.
All of that is to say that I fully embrace the usefulness of the various available translations. I don’t want to seem, in what I am about to say, like one of those Good-Christians-Only-Use-the-KJV people.
After many years of studying Scripture using various translations, I have personally come home to the KJV, and I’ve found it to be very enriching.
Today, I thought I’d share a few of the reasons why.
Archaic Language Enhances
I have had people tell me — in loving concern, of course — that in exposing my children to archaic language during Bible reading, I am jeopardizing their understanding. The implication is that all of the language needs to be immediately accessible to them. We’ll come back to this idea later, but for now let me just say that I don’t believe this is true.
When I was in seminary, one of my favorite professors did his daily Bible reading using the Greek text. He always came to class with these amazing insights. The Greek, though, was sometimes a struggle for him to understand, even though he taught Greek. It would never be as natural to him as reading in English, which was his first language. But reading in a more difficult language gave him more insight, not less. The amount of thinking he had to do naturally increased the amount of time he spent meditating on passages.
Likewise, I have been reading through my Bible this year using the KJV. This is the first time I have done this. I cannot rush through it the same way I am tempted to do in the modern translations. The unfamiliarity of the language assaults me at every turn — I cannot escape, I cannot read mindlessly. (I know some of you are perfectly capable of reading a modern translation with your full mind; I am the weaker brother here.) Truly, I have felt pursued by the Hound of Heaven when I read it.
Thees and Thous Clear the Way
If I were to start a movement, it’d be to bring thee and thou back into usage. Growing up, I always thought that these terms were fancy ways of saying you. I thought that perhaps people who retained the usage (which is very uncommon, I know) were putting on airs.
What I didn’t know was that thee and thou have clear grammatical usefulness. Did you know that you is plural while thee and thou are singular? Once you know this, it is so helpful in trying to understand difficult passages! It gets more complicated than this, of course, but in a fabulous way.
Thee is typically a direct object, or the object in a preposition. In fact, it is the objective case (in Latin we’d call it the accusative case) of thou, so when we see thee in a passage, there is a certain clarity that we do not see in modern English (which we know is there in the Greek and Latin texts, which are wonderfully precise). Likewise, thou is singular and in the nominative case, meaning that thou is always the subject (grammatically speaking) of the sentence.
It wasn’t until we really got into studying Latin that I appreciated how clear this makes the language, and also how true it enables a translator to be to the original language. By discarding thees and thous, we have simplified the language, yes, but in the same sense that muddied waters are a simplified form of mud and water separately. There is less distinction made, not more. The result is that misunderstanding is more likely, not less.
Metaphor is the Bridge to Understanding
I already linked once before to Cindy’s brilliant little piece on metaphor’s ability to enhance understanding. What I am saying here is tied to that idea.
In I Peter 1:3, Christians are told to “gird up the loins of your minds.” If you know Greek, then you know that this is exactly what the Greek says. It’s a metaphor, a poetic device. The KJV translates it precisely. The ESV, NIV, and NASB, however, all say to “prepare your minds for action.” This, my friends, is not a translation.
It is an interpretation.
The translators have made an executive decision to eliminate metaphor and attempt what Martin Cothran calls the “direct route of bald prose”:
To say that the best approach to truth is the direct route of bald prose not only goes against the approach of the original Biblical writers, who employed vivid imagery in their writings, but is also an example of what Richard Weaver, in Ideas Have Consequences, once called the “quest for immediacy” — the idea that truth must be approached like a conquering mental army, besieged and taken captive. But truth is mystery, and tearing the veil off of it reveals little. It can only be approached indirectly.
Metaphor is what keeps the heart soft. It communicates layers of meaning, rather than a singularity. It is more than the sum of its parts.
Frankly, it is more natural to ponder the metaphor of girding up the loins of one’s mind than it is to ponder preparing one’s mind for action. Preparing for action is only one aspect of girding up the loins, which implies virtues such as courage and strength and manliness. There is so much more to think about when immersed in the original imagery.
A Gift to My Children
What has been interesting to me is that my children do not seem to find the language archaic. A.-Age-Seven can often narrate a story from the Old Testament in the KJV language better than she can a story from James Baldwin or Aesop. I can only attribute this to the fact that I have read it to her since she was two or three, and to her it is her native language.
I am only giving my children what I myself have found beneficial. We could talk about manuscript validity (I don’t think the Textus Receptus, from which the KJV is translated, has the problems some people think it does, but that is just my opinion.) We could talk about money, which is a real fuel behind the modern versions and updates. We could talk about the ethical issues involved in something like copyrighting the Word of God. We could talk about the KJV enhancing the intellect in a way the NIV never could.
But these are just background noise, in my opinion. They are real issues, yes, but I don’t think they are reasons to use or not use a translation. We must think more broadly than that.
I’m not saying there is never a reason to use the modern translations. I myself have used them for years, and I still use them regularly. My husband uses them when he reads to the children. And obviously he and I both use retellings written for children. What I am saying is that there is more to the KJV than meets the eye, that it has its own peculiar benefits, and it ought to be considered seriously for some of the family reading, maybe most especially the homeschool lessons.
Get the (almost) weekly digest!
Weekly encouragement, direct to your inbox, (almost) every Saturday.