5 reasons kjv readers aren’t celebrating

The King James Version of the Bible turns 400 this year.  Do you have plans to celebrate?

No.  Not really.

But it’s a very special occasion.  If I were born in 1611, you’d celebrate my birthday wouldn’t you?

Uhm… I guess?  But I don’t see what that has to do with an outdated and difficult-to-understand book.

It’s a ceremonious occasion.

Okay…?

Well, in your expert opinion, why are more people not taking advantage of this opportunity to extol the virtues of a book of such distinction?

Only a handful of us read it.  Why should we celebrate a book we don’t read?  I would, however, be all for observing The Message’s birthday.  Do you know when that will be?

No, I’m sorry.  I don’t.  

Too bad.  That’d be a heck of a party. 

But surely some people still read the KJV.  Right?  It’s poetic.

Yes, they still read it in pockets of south Alabama and Georgia.  They also use “thees” and “thous” in their prayers.  And if you interview any of them, I wouldn’t mention poetry.

What then, shall not these souls make merry on this blissful occasion?

Yeah… I don’t think you’ll find any birthday parties for the KJV even among these good brethren.  Here’s why:

5 Reasons Even People Who Read the KJV Are Not Celebrating Its 400-Year Anniversary

  1. We can not know with any certainty the actual date of the KJV’s birth.  Therefore it is unwise at best — and sinful at worst — to commemorate the birth of the KJV on any given day. 
  2. As Christians we are expected to celebrate the birthday of the Bible every day (or at least every Sunday) — and not just one day out of one year.  We celebrate by reading the word and learning from it.
  3. The Bible never authorizes any birthday celebration for books — itself included.  We seek to celebrate where the Bible celebrates and sit in silence and dispassion where it is silent and dispassionate.
  4. The observance of the KJV’s birthday most definitely originated in some obscure pagan holiday, ritual, or ceremony which involved evil spirits, immoral sexual acts, and/or Harry Potter.
  5. By celebrating the 400-year anniversary of the KJV, we would be admitting that it was not indeed the Bible from which Paul read.  And we’ve kind of got a lot riding on that.
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47 Comments

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47 responses to “5 reasons kjv readers aren’t celebrating

  1. You’re funny.

    When I told the kids in my Sunday School class – 13-14ish – that it has been 400 years since the King James was translated, they kinda freaked and a light bulb went on.

    I usually read KJV. And I don’t live in Alabama. Or Georgia. I even like Starbucks instead of Folgers Decaf. I read it because I grew up with it and nothing else feels quite right as a result. My theory about “first exposure” is mostly founded on my own experience, but I think it’s pretty darn right…

    So, I think some of your stereotypes, there, my boy, might need a little rework. Up here in North Carolina, we burn everything else. Yep, specially if you’re this guy, whose church is probably within a 5 mile radius of my house… http://amazinggracebaptistchurchkjv.com/Download100.html

    You’ll notice that he refers to it as the KJB, not the KJV (except in his URL) He does not believe it to be “a version”, but THE only English Bible. That said, I see this issue through a very painful lens. Many people that are very dear to me genuinely believe the King James Version to be the only true Bible for English speaking people. I respect that, and I get very frustrated by those who mock them for it. Christians who are supposedly irenic and ecumenical resort to some very ugly tactics in regard to KJV Onlyists. Admittedly, the KJVOs sometimes aren’t very friendly to them, and the gentleman linked above is incredibly antagonistic toward virtually everybody in our county, but I am incredibly saddened by the tension this issue brings.

    I don’t have a problem with a church using KJV. I don’t have a problem with someone only using the KJV, period. I don’t think they’re idiots, bumbling fools, or even just plain stupid. They’re not even always uneducated, because “educated” does not automatically carry the connotation of “truthfully educated”. I have a problem when they insult those who disagree, but I have just as much problem with the attitude going the other way, too.

    We don’t need to worship the book. I believe the Bible is the Word of God, but it is not “God”. It should not be an idol. We need to treasure it more highly than any other book, perhaps more than any other “earthly” possession, but not worship it. I’m afraid that some folks actually worship the KJV.

    Yet, we all need to love each other through the misunderstandings and ugly moments. I believe it’s safe to say that’s in EVERY version of the Bible.

    I’m not really arguing against your post, just throwing in my viewpoint.

    • The “KJV is for the uneducated” is a fascinating attitude. Most people I know who criticize the King James translation as too difficult to understand are in fact people with graduate degrees. If you made it through grad school, then you’ve had to read and understand some truly difficult (and badly-written) stuff. The KJV’s archaisms are nothing by comparison: any English-speaker with a high school diploma, a dictionary, and practice with context clues is capable of figuring it out.

      The places I’ve seen the King James translation used most enthusiastically and freely are often among undereducated people- in American inner-city churches, for example. They work very hard to make sense of the text… and they do make sense of it.

      There are legitimate criticisms of the King James translation. There are solid arguments for using a variety of translations in a variety of contexts. But “it’s just too hard for us hypereducated middle-class Americans” really doesn’t fly.

      • Part of the magic of the KJV is that it forces the reader to think. It encourages the student to discuss it with others, in an effort to decipher it, rather than simply just taking it as another “plain old book” that doesn’t require mental effort.

        Of course, those statements are identical to excuses that I find myself using to NOT read it.

  2. Jason

    What about those who believe the KJB is the only version of the Bible for all people everywhere, regardless of whether they speak English or, rather, English from 400 (ish) years ago?

    And, yes, they exist. And more than simple individuals. Whole groups who have decided together.

    By the way, Brett, #1 is my favorite…no, wait, #2…er, #3? No, for sure #4. Or maybe #5. Crap.

    Jason

    • Jason, one line of argument is that subsequent versions of the Bible in English have been translated from slightly different source texts than were used for KJV. If the KJV’s sources are superior (or uniquely authentic), then the KJV is superior (and uniquely authentic).

      I can’t be convinced that the premise of this argument is correct. But it is a sensible argument.

      And I recognize that it still doesn’t apply to those who think all speakers of all languages ought to read only the 1611 Authorized English translation (sadly, I can believe that such folks do exist).

      • The primary argument is usually textually based and has some validity if we assume that a certain “line” can be more valid than a different line. A crucial breakdown, though, is usually that Westcott and Hort have to be demonized to the point that nothing that they approved can be considered safe.

      • Jason

        Oh, sure, I know what the academic argument(s) is (are), but nobody I’ve ever met that believes in the exclusivity of KJB can even begin to articulate it (them). They’ve been told, and it was simply part of their faith.

        Let me give you one example. I once had a black South African Mormon tell me in Kansas City, MO that the KJB was the only translation that anyone could use. I said, Really, and what about back home in South Africa in areas they don’t even speak English? Yes, he said, even there it must be used. And in Vietnam? I asked. Anywhere, he answered.

        Now, granted, he’s believing in a specifically American (i.e. English-speaking) slanted revelation. But seriously, that’s where his sensibility disappeared for me (ahem…on that particular point).

        Let me be clear though: I don’t have any problems with the KJV. I just have a problem when preference becomes beatified or canonized.

        • Oh my. That’s crazy.

          And fully agreed with your final statement. I can say that I have no problem with the use of a variety of translations in a variety of contexts. I just have a problem when the KJV becomes unfairly stigmatized.

  3. Nice list.

    I read the King James Bible, though I’m not picky about whether it’s the 1611 text or one of the many revisions which were published up until the RSV. There are many good reasons to value- and celebrate- this translation. And if you’re educated enough to read Shakespeare (which we give to high schoolers), you’re educated enough to use context clues to figure out archaic and obsolete words.

    I can’t figure why folks get hung up on the second person singular pronoun- especially anyone who’s spent half a day studying French, Spanish, Russian, Kiswahili, Greek, Arabic or any of the other thousands of languages that distinguish between 2sg and 2pl. “Thou” is the second person singular subject pronoun, and “thee” is the second person singular object pronoun. “You” is plural (equivalent to “y’all” in Modern English). Some dialects of Scots still make this distinction. There are slightly different verbal declensions (you shall, thou shalt) but they really are not hard to figure out. I’d say three minutes of attention would be enough to get the pronoun issue sorted.

    These are not arguments against other translations. They are arguments against the idea that the KJV’s language is so horrifyingly difficult. It just ain’t.

    I don’t like the RSV on this matter because it bizarrely mangles the pronoun issue. It uses “thou” for God and “you” for humans. That’s nonsensical.

    More recent translations ignore the pronoun number (which is in the Greek). This doesn’t cause major problems, but it does make the text more opaque. You don’t know for certain whether it is one person or many being addressed. This is, of course, true of any book written in Modern English and it’s not a big deal. But it does paint over a distinction which exists in the original Greek.

    The King James Bible invented a lot of the English we use today. Translation required putting certain concepts and things into English for the very first time. So new vocabulary was created whole cloth. Most of that vocabulary has entered modern usage, although some of it (“to us-wards”) has not (but still, isn’t the meaning of “to us-wards” kind of totally transparent?). This makes it an incredibly powerful and meaningful foundation of English-language literature.

    King James certainly had an agenda when he commissioned an English translation of Holy Scripture. But the translators did not have a strong theological agenda; they did a pretty good job at rendering Greek vocabulary and grammar in the English language without a heavy layer of interpretation. Most 20th- and 21st- century translations have had a heavier layer of interpretation, which skews the texts towards the agenda of the translators. (I can dig up, if you like, my argument that the NIV’s skewed translation of sarks is evident of Gnostic bias).

    Generally, the King James leaves obscure those passages that are obscure in Greek. If the Greek text is confusing and open to multiple interpretation, then the King James text will be confusing and open to multiple interpretation. This means that, if I know the King James text, I can appreciate the ambiguity of a certain passage. Other translations will pick an interpretation favored by their theological school, and turn an ambiguity into something unambiguously skewed. I know they’re trying to help the reader, but they risk being dishonest.

    So these are among the reasons that I use the King James Bible for memorization and for personal study. When I’m using Scripture in a public space, I’ll browse a few translations and pick whichever one does the best job of rendering the specific passage in a way that the audience I’m addressing will receive well. Rarely do I find the KJV most suitable for these purposes.

    But I love the King James Bible. And most of the criticisms I hear of it frankly don’t hold water.

    • “If the Greek text is confusing and open to multiple interpretation, then the King James text will be confusing and open to multiple interpretation. This means that, if I know the King James text, I can appreciate the ambiguity of a certain passage.”

      That’s well said and worthy of thought. Thou has well spoken.

      Sorry, couldn’t resist. 🙂

      • Hast, Bernard. Hast.

        Sg Pl
        I have We have
        Thou hast You have
        She has They have
        He has
        It has

        … it’s really not that hard 😉

        – seriously, thank you!

        • yeah, my nice little verb-conjugations table didn’t work. One more silly try:

          Singular…………………Plural
          I have……………………We have
          Thou hast………………You have
          She has………………….They have
          He has
          It has

          • Jason

            This construction in King James English (and earlier) can be seen in the source for our English verb: German.

            Singular German
            Ich habe I have
            Du habst Thou hast
            Er hat He has
            sie hat she has
            es hat it has

            I won’t go further than saying the b in the German habe can easily weaken to become the v in the English have: they are both bilabial or at the least in the front of the mouth. The b falling off the German habst is a normal happening in language to form the English hast. The t and the s in the German hat and the English has are actually the same sound with different actions, meaning you most likely make t and s with your tongue in the same place in your mouth, but with the t you completely restrict airflow and then let a bit through, whereas with the s you continually let air through.

            Ok, geek.

          • Jason…. danke schoen! 🙂

  4. I laughed out loud at “Harry Potter.” Oh me.

    I think it is sad and disappointing that this is even an issue. But I think this, like so many that have existed (and still do unfortunately) is a way of Satan to help us lose focus on loving each other and spending time with God. Maybe if he can get us to focus on the behavior and perceived misconduct of others, we will forget to love them. And maybe if we make so many rules it will be too hard to follow Christ and people will quit. Then lights won’t shine and people won’t know us by our love. And we won’t be any different than anyone else because we are arguing over stuff like this.

    And then no one will point to Christ with the love in their life because we are so busy pointing at each other.

  5. btw- your “5 Reasons” really are hilarious. And I’m sorry we’re all getting so serious about such a light-hearted post.

    • Yeah, I apologize for not appropriately honoring the humor that Brett clearly intended. I’m not upset at all, but the post does bring me to a point of thinking about some things, and those things just typically flow through my fingers to a keyboard, so here we are. I’m definitely not all whitey tightey about it.

  6. to me the Bible is not the point – rather it points to something, er, someone else. So while it is good to emphasize it, maybe we should be apart of Jesus churches and not Bible churches.

    • That’s a majorly heretical statement to most KJV types. Seriously. Not to me, cause I get what you are saying, but “Bible colleges” are the most important type of education that there is in that world, which is why every little fundamental baptist church has to have its own, since they can’t cooperate with each other due to the doctrinal imposition against ecumenism.

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  8. Carrie

    I didn’t find it funny at all. I found it insulting, pompous, and self-congratulatory.

    And I’m from neither Alabama nor Georgia.

    • but, carrie, tell me how you really feel?

      i did not intend for this post to come across as insulting, pompous, or self-congratulatory. i apologize if i offended you. i fear that is one of the dangers of satire.

      and i don’t know exactly what offended you. i’m assuming it was either the kjv talk or the list of arguments against holidays that was an affront to your sensibilities. so i’ll speak briefly to both points.

      i intended to humorously point out a couple of arguments my religious tribe has traditionally used to encourage believers not to celebrate christmas (and some other holidays). while i do think these arguments are poor ones, i certainly think myself no better than those who support them. i simply have a differing opinion that i wanted to share through a form of humor.

      and i have nothing against the king james version. i think the language used within it is beautiful. and i don’t really think it’s all that hard to understand. i do prefer to read other versions for devotional and teaching purposes, but i don’t believe the kjv to be bad, wrong, or evil. i do, however, take issue with those who claim the kjv is the only bible which can or should be used. but i still love them… and their old english bible.

      i am from alabama.

      • Carrie

        The funny thing is, I’m never that blunt. You obviously struck a nerve, which such posts are intended to do. On that, you succeeded.

        I simply don’t find it funny because it makes a mock at the very folks that make a mock at others—two wrongs not making a right and all that jazz.

        I get most sarcasm (I’m a regular reader at jesusneedsnewpr.net), but time the humor was lost on me.

        • i suppose mockery is indeed one way to describe what i’ve written. though i prefer to call it satire. it was my attempt at demonstrating that some of these arguments ought not be used when dealing with holiday celebrations. i figure i can do that through straight logic and reason or through humor. i prefer humor. or i try at least.

          but give me another chance. i bet i can use humor at some point that you’ll enjoy.

  9. brian

    very nice, loved it!

  10. Geez Louise, it’s humor!

    Way to hang in there, Brett. I enjoyed the humorous points in this post, was surprised at the rabid criticisms, impressed with your responses, pleased with the apologies of aforementioned critics and grateful for everyone’s efforts to remember the second greatest command, love one another.

  11. saw your link on Mandy’s roll call site. Very funny, loved this!

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  13. FINALLY got to this! And, yessir Mr. Brett sir, you are funny. Also, I will validate your perception that the KJV is highly regarded in Georgia. 🙂 hahaha!!! Oh man. There are churches that have “KJV” on their sign here.

  14. Just dropped a comment with links. It may be in moderation/spam folder. 🙂

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  17. Wow lots of comments about this post. Couldn’t believe the image of the church of Jesus and KJV. The idea is unspeakable.

    We use the KJV mostly because many of the study helps utilize that version, although it’s always good to study a passage from many other Bibles and versions, to get the deeper meaning.

    • marsha, because our conversation is by way of typing i can’t be sure if you know this or not. and i feel dumb explaining it if you already know. but i’d feel worse not explaining if you didn’t it. the image of the church of Jesus and KJV is completely faked. i made it myself. thought it was funny.

      i still have my KJV thompson chain reference — it was given to me by my grandmama when i was baptized. and i still use it whenever i’m wanting to look at different versions. though i primarily read from the NIV or the swahili good news version these days.

  18. John

    Love this. The one thing we need it for is when the whole congregation quotes the 23rd Psalm and the Lord’s Prayer. If any other version is attempted, everyone fumbles. Ha! And also….I’ve got some-thing for you…..

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