ISN’T THE KING JAMES BIBLE TOO ANTIQUATED AND DIFFICULT TO UNDERSTAND?
Updated October 8, 2007 (first published Feb. 3, 2004) (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143, email@example.com) -
The following is excerpted from THE BIBLE VERSION QUESTION-ANSWER DATABASE, available from Way of Life Literature. This book gives diligently-researched, in-depth answers to 82 of the most important questions on this topic. A vast number of myths are exposed, such as the myth that Erasmus promised to add 1 John 5:7 to his Greek New Testament if even one manuscript could be produced, the myth that the differences between the Greek texts and versions are slight and insignificant, and the myth that there are no doctrines affected by the changes in the modern versions. The author has carried on extensive correspondence with men on all sides of this issue for the past 25 years, and this book answers the challenges that are made by the opponents of “King James Onlyism,” including James White, D.A. Carson, Doug Kutilek, the editors of From the Mind of God to the Mind of Man and One Bible Only, etc. It also includes reviews of several of the popular modern versions, including the Living Bible, New Living Bible, Today’s English Version, New International Version, New American Standard Version, The Message, and the Holman Christian Standard Bible. 423 pages, 7X8, perfect bound, $17.95.
One of the chief arguments against the King James Bible is that it is allegedly too antiquated and difficult to understand. The following answer is from the 432-page “Bible Version Question-Answer Database,” which is available from Way of Life Literature:
1. THE KJV DOES HAVE SOME ANTIQUATED WORDS AND FORMS OF SPEECH, BUT THERE ARE NOT TOO MANY OF THESE.
The Trinitarian Bible Society publishes a list of 618 antiquated words. It is called Bible Word List. Most of these can be understood by considering the context. There are only about two hundred words in the KJV that have become so antiquated that they have changed meanings or have dropped entirely out of common usage, so that you really need a dictionary to understand them. Following are some examples:
carriages (Acts 21:15) = baggage
charger (Mk. 6:25) = platter
devotions (Acts 17:23) = objects of worship
conversation (Gal. 1:13) = conduct
do you to wit (2 Cor. 8:1) = make known to you
fetched a compass (Acts 28:13) = circled
leasing (Ps. 4:2) = lying
let (2 Thess. 2:7) = restrain
meat (Mat. 3:4) = food
prevent (1 Thess. 4:15) = precede
room (Lk. 14:7) = seat
scrip (Mat. 10:10) = bag
take no thought (Mat. 6:25) = be not anxious
noised (Acts 2:6) = reported
quick (Heb. 4:12) = living
2. THE OVERALL READING LEVEL OF THE KJV IS NOT VERY HIGH.
a. The KJV is written on an 8th to 10th grade level. This was proven in the 1980s by a computer analysis made by Dr. Donald Waite. He ran several books of the KJV through the Right Writer program and found that Genesis 1, Exodus 1, and Romans 8 are on the 8th grade level; Romans 1 and Jude are on the 10th grade level; and Romans 3:1-23 is on the 6th grade level. I would guess that many parts of the four Gospels are on that same level if not lower.
b. The KJV was rated as “very easy prose” by Dr. Rudolf Flesch. In the book The Art of Plain Talk (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1946), Dr. Flesch analyzed the reading level of various documents and rated them on a scale from Very Easy to Very Difficult. He testified, “The best example of very easy prose (about 20 affixes per 200 words) is the King James Version of the Bible...” Dr. Flesch is most famous for the book Why Johnny Can’t Read.
3. THE KJV HAS A SMALL VOCABULARY.
While Shakespeare used a vocabulary of roughly 21,000 English words, the vocabulary of the King James Bible is composed of only 6,000 (Albert Cook, The Authorized Version of the Bible and Its Influence, 1910). This compares favorably to the vocabulary of the Hebrew Old Testament, which is 5,642 words, and the vocabulary of the Greek New Testament, which is about 4,800 words.
4. THE KJV USES SIMPLE WORDS; MOST ARE ONLY ONE OR TWO SYLLABLES.
“The entire KJV averages 1.31 syllables and 3.968 letters per word. This word length puts the KJV in the same readability category as the children’s books” (D.A. Waite, Jr., The Comparative Readability of the Authorized Version, Bible for Today, Collingswood, NJ, 1996).
a. Consider Psalm 23, for example: “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.”
Of the 119 words in this Psalm, only 24 are more than two syllables and only 5 are three.
b. Consider the Parable of the Rich Man in Luke 12:15-21. “And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
Of the 157 English words in this passage, only 22 are more than two syllables.
5. THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN A BIBLE TRANSLATION IS NOT SIMPLE LANGUAGE BUT FAITHFULNESS TO THE ORIGINAL.
a. Dr. Donald Waite has made the following excellent comments on this subject: “The Bible is not a first grade primer. It is God’s book. It is a book that must be diligently read. It is only by ‘searching the Scriptures’ that we find what pertains to life and death. It tells of creation, of the mighty universe, of the future or the past, of the Mighty God and His wonders, of the Holy Spirit’s ministry among Christians, of the Son of God’s great sacrifice for sin, of home in Heaven for the believer, and of a fiery hell for the unsaved. How dare we assume that His Word can be capsulated in a comic book [or a version that reads ‘like the morning newspaper’]. Some people say they like a particular version because ‘it’s more readable.’ Now, readability is one thing, but does the readability conform to what’s in the original Greek and Hebrew language? You can have a lot of readability, but if it doesn’t match up with what God has said, it’s of no profit. In the King James Bible, the words match what God has said. You may say it’s difficult to read, but study it out. [At times it’s] hard in the Hebrew and Greek and, perhaps, even in the English in the King James Bible. But to change it around just to make it simple, or interpreting it instead of translating it, is wrong. You’ve got lots of interpretation, but we don’t want that in a translation. We want exactly what God said in the Hebrew or Greek brought over into English” (Waite, Defending the King James Bible, p. 242).
b. Also consider this statement by Leland Ryken, a professor of English at Wheaton College: “An English Bible translation should strive for maximum readability only within the parameters of accurately expressing what the original actually says, including the difficulty inherent in the original text. The crucial question that should govern translation is what the original authors actually wrote, not our speculations over how they would express themselves today or how we would express the content of the Bible. The fact that the New Testament was written in koine Greek should not lead translators to translate the Bible in a uniformly colloquial style. Finally, a good translation does not attempt to make the Bible simpler than it was for the original audience” (Leland Ryken, The Word of God in English, pp. 100, 101).
6. PART OF THE ANTIQUATED FEEL OF THE KING JAMES BIBLE IS ITS USAGE OF THE SECOND PERSON SINGULAR PRONOMINAL FORMS, “THEE,” “THOU,” AND “THINE.”
a. These should be retained because their use allows the distinction in English between singular and plural pronouns. In other words, “you” and “ye” are plural, while “thou” and “thine” are singular. The singular forms have disappeared from contemporary English, so that there is no difference today between “you” plural and “you” singular. The Hebrew and Greek languages, though, have both a singular and plural form of the pronoun, and the King James Bible was able to pass this distinction along to the English reader.
b. The use of thee, thou, thine was already antiquated when the King James Bible was translated. The King James translators did not adopt thee, thou, thine because those forms were common to their day, but because they wanted to faithfully translate the original Scripture text into English.
These expressions had already dropped out of common English by 1611 when the King James Bible was published. We can see this by reading the translator’s Preface and other writings by the translators. The distinction between the singular and plural in English began in the late 13th century and continued commonly until the 1500s.
The British biblical scholar J.B. Lightfoot wrote, “Indeed, we may take courage from the fact that the language of our English Bible is not the language of the age in which the translators lived, but in its grand simplicity stands out in contrast to the ornate and often affected diction of the literature of the time” (The Divine Original, Trinitarian Bible Society, London, England).
“It is often asserted or assumed that the usage of the AV represents the speech of 300 years ago, and that now, three centuries later, it should be changed to accord with contemporary usage. But this is not at all a correct statement of the problem. The important fact is this. THE USAGE OF THE AV IS NOT THE ORDINARY USAGE OF THE EARLY SEVENTEENTH CENTURY: IT IS THE BIBLICAL USAGE BASED ON THE STYLE OF THE HEBREW AND THE GREEK SCRIPTURES. The second part of this statement needs no proof and will be challenged by no one. It is undeniable that where the Hebrew and Greek use the singular of the pronoun the AV regularly uses the singular, and where they use the plural it uses the plural. Even in Deuteronomy where in his addresses, and apparently for rhetorical and pedagogical effect, Moses often changes suddenly, and seemingly arbitrarily, from singular to plural or from plural to singular, the AV reproduces the style of the text with fidelity. THAT IS TO SAY, THE USAGE OF THE AV IS STRICTLY BIBLICAL” (Oswald T. Allis, “Is a Pronominal Revision of the Authorized Version Desirable?” This article is available in the Bible Version section of the End Times Apostasy Database at the Way of Life Literature web site -- http://www.wayoflife.org).
Linguistic scholar A.T. Robertson made the following important observation about the King James Bible: “No one today speaks the English of the Authorised Version, or ever did for that matter, for though, like Shakespeare, it is the pure Anglo-Saxon, yet unlike Shakespeare IT REPRODUCES TO A REMARKABLE EXTENT THE SPIRIT AND LANGUAGE OF THE BIBLE” (A Grammar of the Greek New Testament, p. 56).
The style of the King James Bible goes back to the masterly work of William Tyndale in the early 16th century. British historian James Froude observes: “The peculiar genius—if such a word may be permitted—which breathes through it—the mingled tenderness and majesty—the Saxon simplicity—the preternatural grandeur—unequalled, unapproached in the attempted improvements of modern scholars—all are here, and bear the impress of the mind of one man—William Tyndale. Lying, while engaged in that great office, under the shadow of death, the sword above his head and ready at any moment to fall, he worked, under circumstances alone perhaps truly worthy of the task which was laid upon him—his spirit, as it were divorced from the world, moved in a purer element than common air” (Froude, History of England from the Fall of Wolsey to the Defeat of the Spanish Armada, III, p. 84).
c. Following are some examples of how important it is to retain the distinction between second person singular and plural. These examples (excepting Isaiah 7:14) are adapted from the book Archaic or Accurate: Modern Translations of the Bible and You versus Thee in the Language of Worship, edited by J.P. Thackway, and published by The Bible League of England:
Exodus 4:15. “THOU shalt speak unto him, and put words in his mouth; and I will be with THY mouth, and with his mouth, and will teach YOU what YE shall do.” THOU and THY refer to Moses, but YOU refers to the nation.
Exodus 29:42. “This shalt be a continual burnt offering throughout YOUR generations at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the LORD where I will meet YOU, to speak there unto THEE.” YOU, referring to the children of Israel, is explained in the following verse, but THEE refers to Moses, who had the holy privilege of hearing the words of God directly (Leviticus 1:1).
2 Samuel 7:23. “And what one nation in the earth is like THY people, even like Israel, whom God went to redeem for a people to himself, and to make him a name, and to do for YOU great things and terrible, for THY land, before THY people, which THOU redeemedst to THEE from Egypt.” Here David is in prayer to God, thus accounting for the singular words THY and THOU, referring to God. David turns his attention to the people Israel when he uses the plural YOU. If “you” were used throughout, the reader would not understand who David was addressing.
Isaiah 7:14. “Therefore the Lord himself shall give YOU a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” There is a long-running debate by liberal and even New Evangelical scholars that Isaiah 7:14 is only secondarily a Messianic prophecy and that its primary fulfillment was in Isaiah’s day. For example, the note in the NIV Study Bible says of the word virgin: “May refer to a young woman betrothed to Isaiah (8:3), who was to become his second wife (his first wife presumably having died after Shear-jashub was born).” In fact, the prophecy is not directed to Isaiah personally but to the nation Israel as a whole, and this is clear in the KJV, because it indicates properly that “YOU” is plural, not singular. This important information is lost in the modern English versions, including the New King James.
Matthew 26:64. “Jesus saith unto him, THOU hast said: nevertheless I say unto YOU, Hereafter shall YE see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” The singular THOU refers to the high priest, but the plural YOU refers to all who will see Christ in the day of His glory (Rev. 1:7).
Luke 22:31-32. “The Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have YOU, that he may sift YOU as wheat: but I have prayed for THEE, that THY faith fail not: and when THOU art converted, strengthen THY brethren.” Satan’s desire was directed to all the apostles (YOU), but the Lord prays for each individually and for Peter specifically (THEE, THY).
John 3:7. “Marvel not that I said unto THEE, YE must be born again.” The message was spoken to an individual (THEE), Nicodemus, but the message encompassed all men (YE). The same thing occurs in verse 11, where we read, “I say unto THEE ... that YE receive not our witness.”
1 Corinthians 8:9-12. “Take heed lest ... this liberty of YOURS ... if any man see THEE which hast knowledge ... through THY knowledge ... But when YE sin.” The plural YOURS and YE refer to the church members in general, but the Holy Spirit personalizes the exhortation by changing to the singular THEE and THY.
2 Timothy 4:22. “The Lord Jesus Christ be with THY spirit. Grace be with YOU.” The singular THY refers to Timothy, to whom the epistle was written (2 Tim. 1:1), but the plural YOU refers to others who were also included in Paul’s final greetings, “Priscilla and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus” (2 Tim. 4:19).
Titus 3:15. “All that are with me salute THEE. Greet them that love us in the faith. Grace be with YOU all.” Here, the singular THEE refers to Titus, but the plural YOU refers to the church in Crete (Tit. 1:5), and to all who loved Paul in the faith.
Philemon 21-25. “Having confidence in THY obedience I wrote unto THEE, knowing that THOU wilt also do more than I say ... I trust that through YOUR prayers I shall be given unto YOU ... There salute THEE ... the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with YOUR spirit.” The singular THEE refers to Philemon, but as this short letter was also addressed to “Apphia ... Archippus ... and to the church in thy house” (v. 2), the plural form YOU, YOUR is used in verses 3, 22, and 25.
7. PREVIOUS GENERATIONS EDUCATED THE PEOPLE UP TO THE BIBLE, AND THAT IS WHAT WE SHOULD DO TODAY.
It is my conviction that we don’t need a new translation today; we need to renew our study of the excellent one that we already have. “Instead of lowering the Bible to a lowest common denominator, why should we not educate people to rise to the level required to experience the Bible in its full richness and exaltation? Instead of expecting the least from Bible readers, we should expect the most from them. The greatness of the Bible requires the best, not the least. ... The most difficult of modern English translations -- the King James -- is used most by segments of our society that are relatively uneducated as defined by formal education. ... research has shown repeatedly that people are capable of rising to surprising and even amazing abilities to read and master a subject that is important to them. ... Previous generations did not find the King James Bible, with its theological heaviness, beyond their comprehension. Nor do readers and congregations who continue to use the King James translation find it incomprehensible. Neither of my parents finished grade school, and they learned to understand the King James Bible from their reading of it and the preaching they heard based on it. We do not need to assume a theologically inept readership for the Bible. Furthermore, if modern readers are less adept at theology than they can and should be, it is the task of the church to educate them, not to give them Bible translations that will permanently deprive them of the theological content that is really present in the Bible” (Leland Ryken, The Word of God in English, pp. 107, 109).
8. THOUGH THE TERMS “THOU” AND “THINE” HAVE BEEN OUT OF COMMON USAGE OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE FOR MORE THAN 400 YEARS, IT WAS ONLY A FEW DECADES AGO THAT PEOPLE STARTED COMPLAINING ABOUT IT.
Even then it was done largely at the prompting of Bible publishers greedy to make ever larger profits by introducing an ever more bewildering smorgasbord of “up-to-date” Bibles. Believers of the 1600s, 1700s, 1800s, and even most of the 1900s, loved the “quaint” old English of the King James Bible. They did not think it strange that their Bible did not sound like the morning newspaper. It is the Bible! It was written thousands of years ago! It is the Word of the eternal God! It is nothing like the morning newspaper; why, pray tell, should it sound like one? “I believe that it is correct for an English translation to preserve an appropriate archaic flavor as a way of preserving the distance between us and the biblical world. Joseph Wood Krutch used an evocative formula in connection with the King James Bible when he spoke of ‘an appropriate flavor of a past time’” (Ryken, The Word of God in English, p. 182).
9. THERE ARE MANY TOOLS AVAILABLE TO HELP PEOPLE UNDERSTAND THE KJV. FOLLOWING ARE A FEW OF THESE:
The Bible Word List from the Trinitarian Bible Society of London, England. This is a pamphlet that defines 618 antiquated words in the King James Bible. See http://www.trinitarianbiblesociety.org/.
The Concise King James Bible Dictionary, available from Way of Life Literature. Designed to fit in a Bible case, its convenient size makes it easy to use, because it can be kept right with one’s Bible. It includes an extensive list of King James Bible words that have changed meaning since 1611, plus all of the doctrinal terms (“justification,” “sanctification,” “propitiation,” etc.) and much more. Not only does it define individual Bible words but also many of the phrases and descriptive statements that are no longer a part of contemporary English usage, such as “superfluity of naughtiness,” “at your hand,” “taken with the manner,” and “in the gate.” It is an excellent small Bible dictionary for both new and older Christians. Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061-0368. 866-295-4143, http://www.wayoflife.org (web site).
Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance. In my estimation, Strong’s is the most important Bible study tool ever published. Not only is it exhaustive in its treatment of the words of the English Bible, but it also links the English words to an exceptional dictionary of the Hebrew and Greek terms underlying the English. One does not have to know the Greek and Hebrew alphabets to use Strong’s dictionary; he developed a masterly apparatus whereby each Greek and Hebrew word is assigned a number, and the student can thus search for Greek and Hebrew terms by numbers. The dictionary gives a concise definition of the Greek or Hebrew word as well as a list of how the word is translated at various places in the English Bible.
The Way of Life Encyclopedia of the Bible & Christianity. Another tool for studying the King James Bible is the Way of Life Encyclopedia of the Bible & Christianity. (The above-mentioned Concise King James Bible was based on the Way of Life Encyclopedia.) This lovely hardcover Bible encyclopedia contains 560 pages (8.5X11) of information, over 5,500 entries, and over 6,000 cross-references. Twenty-five years of research has gone into this one-of-a-kind reference tool. It is the only Bible dictionary/encyclopedia written by a fundamental Baptist and based strictly upon the King James Bible. It is a complete dictionary of biblical terminology, plus it features many other areas of research not often covered in a single volume Bible reference tool. Subjects include Bible versions, Denominations, Cults, Christian Movements, Typology, the Church, Social Issues and Practical Christian Living, Bible Prophecy, and Old English Terminology. The Christian will be helped and fortified in his faith through this Encyclopedia. It does not correct the Authorized nor does it undermine the fundamental Baptist’s doctrines and practices as many study tools do. Many preachers have told us that apart from Strong’s Concordance, the Way of Life Bible Encyclopedia is their favorite study tool. A missionary told us that if he could save only one study book out of his library, it would be our encyclopedia. An evangelist in South Dakota wrote: “If I were going to the mission field and could carry only three books, they would be the Strong’s concordance, a hymnal, and the Way of Life Bible Encyclopedia.” Missionary author Jack Moorman says: “The encyclopedia is excellent and will meet a real need. The entries show a ‘distilled spirituality.’” Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061. 866-295-4143, firstname.lastname@example.org (e-mail), http://www.wayoflife.org (web site).
THE BIBLE VERSION QUESTION-ANSWER DATABASE (D.W. Cloud) [1-58318-088-5] This book gives diligently-researched, in-depth answers to 82 of the most important questions on this topic. A vast number of myths are exposed, such as the myth that Erasmus promised to add 1 John 5:7 to his Greek New Testament if even one manuscript could be produced, the myth that the differences between the Greek texts and versions are slight and insignificant, and the myth that there are no doctrines affected by the changes in the modern versions. The author has carried on extensive correspondence with men on all sides of this issue for the past 25 years, and this book answers the challenges that are made by the opponents of “King James Onlyism,” including James White, D.A. Carson, Doug Kutilek, the editors of From the Mind of God to the Mind of Man and One Bible Only, etc. It also includes reviews of several of the popular modern versions, including the Living Bible, New Living Bible, Today’s English Version, New International Version, New American Standard Version, The Message, and the Holman Christian Standard Bible. 423 pages, 7X8, perfect bound, $17.95
WAY OF LIFE LITERATURE
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