Reading from the KJV

Reading from the KJV

I chose to do my lectionary reading today from the KJV, and specifically from an edition of the C. I. Scofield study Bible. This is an interesting exercise for me, since I grew up on the KJV. In fact, it’s no harder for me to do my reading from the KJV than from a very modern version.

There’s a great scene in The Fountainhead, in which Howard Roark is criticizing the architecture of the Parthenon in the presence of the dean of the school of architecture. The dean’s response? “But it’s the Parthenon!” That seems to be the most common response I get to comments on the KJV. People love the quality of literature it represents, and so they want to stick with it. How can I criticize it? It’s the KJV! And to be honest, a literary appreciation is a good reason to hold onto your KJV.

But very often when we appreciate something, we try to force it on others on whom it may not have the same effect. Consider the Revised English Bible. There is no modern version I would prefer to hear read aloud. Yet when I read it aloud to most American audiences, the response is disappointing to say the least. The particular vocabulary and cadences of the REB just doesn’t strike them in the same way. Thus in recommending Bible versions I have to remember that what strikes me as high literary quality doesn’t necessarily strike someone else in the same way. (The New Jerusalem Bible is another version that I love to hear read aloud, but which often doesn’t elicit the same response from others. I’m not sure why.)

Nonetheless, within proper boundaries, the literary beauty argument is a good argument for the KJV. Those constraints must include considerations of audience. A key factor in making me change from the KJV in public reading and teaching was that I noticed that young people very simply didn’t understand it. They could make out the words, but they couldn’t express the content in their own words. That is, of course, an important limitation.

I do believe that many KJV-Only teachers and preachers actually prefer this state. If their audience doesn’t comprehend the words of scripture, the teacher can infuse into them just about any meaning he prefers. Some of the things I have heard recently suggest that this is not something I imagined. Having scriptures in language the people do not understand is a great boon to those who would like to maintain power over them. It seems like we’ve tried this sort of thing before, only then it was the Latin Vulgate that was God’s gift to the church, and the sole translation of the word of God worth reading.

For enjoyment and literary appreciation–if you do, in fact, understand it–the KJV is good. For understanding by most modern church members and seekers, not so much.

7 thoughts on “Reading from the KJV

  1. Excellent post! I believe that God’s Word was meant to be written for to be understood in common current language. Those of us who do love and have preached from the KJV must come to the reality that it is unbiblical to burden people with our preferences.

    I appreciate your thoughts on this subject and thank you for your stand for the Bible and rightly dividing with desired integrity.

  2. There are a lot of variables to fiddle with on this subject. We tend to assume that reading out loud while a room full of people listen is a valid activity for 21st century believers. But most of these people are used to sitting and watching a screen whether TV or computer and they process information much differently than people did even fifty years ago. So as much as I am an advocate of public reading I can see the strength of an approach that is more multimedia and interactive.

    Another variable is of course the lack of recognized authority. If the pastor told you something in the good ol’ days he had a lot of authority behind him. These days he is just one voice of millions and post-modernists are going to be using the pastor’s message as one element of their own solipsistic truth construct.

    Finally, there’s quite a retro impulse in a lot of modern spirituality so I can imagine that KJV/ESV can exert a strong attraction because of their foreignness. The human heart hungers for holiness and KJV oozes it.

    BTW, the mybibleversion thingy is really cool.

  3. What an excellent post! I tend to agree with you concerning KJVO leaders. I have met more than many who seem to think that holding the KJV is like being the vicar of God – and only they can understand it. No deep study is required and is more than likely discouraged. I believe that many in the pews see if differently. They see it as the Bible that first brought them to Christ. So, it has become more of a tradition to them. It is there that they hear the word of God that they heard in their childhood. And of course, there is also the idea that in many KJVO circles, scholarship is distrusted to the point of being hated.

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