I’m not one of those guys that believes that the King James Version of the Bible is the only version that God has preserved. I’m mostly an ESV (English Standard Version) guy for reasons of scholarship and readability when I’m studying. I find many who hold most vociferously to the KJV to be cultic and in some extreme cases, hold to heretical beliefs regarding Bible translations, inspiration and preservation. Others hold a racist (Aryan) view of mankind that lends itself to an extreme KJVO belief. Others wouldn’t know translation scholarship if it hit them in the head. For the vast majority of them, they have an obnoxious attitude about the issue that renders them toxic and unbiblical.
But, neither am I “anti-KJV.” I have hundreds of verses memorized in the King James Version and when I teach and preach, they flow easily from my conversations with a melodic fluidity that is as much who I am as is my faith so intertwined are they. Many folks have an emotional attachment to the Scripture version of their early days as a Christian — and I’m no exception. A crude similarity is my personal affection for the “Sally, Dick and Jane” books from which I learned to read. There’s a familiar intimacy and a joy of discovery that defies logic and explanation, but which is quite palpable in my heart. It’s like an old and trusted friend who knows your secrets and loves you still.
Today, I came across an essay on a website that I’ve sometimes visited for an easy laugh that is dedicated to a common heritage many of us have who trace our origins in some way to the stock of religious fundamentalism that no longer means what it did when we were young. I won’t share the specific website here, because if you haven’t lived those experiences, you wouldn’t understand the website. But the essay posted today was so moving and captured my heart on such a personal level, I asked for and received permission to share it with you. I do not even know the author’s last name — he writes as “Darrell”. But in my opinion, what follows is a moving soliloquy of why I love the KJV. Enjoy.
I have a confession to make: I’m no longer an Independent Baptist Fundamentalist but I still love my King James Bible. Yes, she’s old-fashioned and in places she’s more than a bit obscure. And there are certainly plenty of trendy new Bible versions with stylish covers that scream to me from the shelves of the Christian bookstore about how much easier they are to read, learn, understand, ingest, and recycle. Some of them (if the advertising is to be believed) are even capable of reading themselves on my behalf to save me the bother.
I’ve brought a few of these versions home with me from time to time over the years and and set them next to my old KJV. But when the time comes to grab “my Bible” I know which one that is. It’s the leather-bound Old Scofield — the same Bible that my dad preached from for all those years when I was growing up. It’s the one with the “thees” and “thous” and thunder and blood and power and majesty in its pages. I’ll be disappointed if when I finally meet Abraham and Moses and Paul they don’t all sound like Alexander Scourby.
I’ll admit part of this appreciation is simple sentiment. It just sounds right to me. It contains the words I’ve got stored in my brain and hidden in my heart. It also contains breadth of vocabulary and poetry that allows me the childish joy of befuddling the general public when I allude to it (as I frequently do) in everyday conversation. But most of all, it’s simply a classic. A translation that for the past 400 years has been more read, memorized, disputed, preached from, quoted, hated, loved, railed against, treasured, denounced and cherished than any other printed work in the history of English literature. That’s pretty impressive.
I’m not unaware of the problems with this Grand Olde Version. It has a decidedly king-friendly political slant in some passages and some of its prose is downright prudish. I know that there are many people who, after having spent time in churches where the KJV is exalted more than the Saviour, can only hear in its archaic wording the language of judgment and wrath and prefer to turn instead to a fresher, gentler reading of text. And while I understand, I find it unspeakably sad that such a great old volume full of hope and truth should become a club swung at those those who need its message the most.
So why do I still turn to my KJV to refresh my spirit and comfort my heart? It’s not because it’s the only translation worth reading — there are quite a few good ones available (and I often double check my reading with more than one). It’s not because the Flesch–Kincaid readability test tells me that there may be a home-schooled third-grader somewhere in the world who actually understands most of it. It’s not because I feel that there is some magic in praying and reciting quaint phrases that have long since passed out of common use.
I suppose if I had to sum up my respect for the King James Version in few words, I’d say that it has in its translated pages a majesty and a nobility that rarely graces our speech and writing anymore. It is art. It is beauty. And it is inseparably entwined with my own spiritual journey.
When I read it, it transports me to memories of my father reading Proverbs at the breakfast table with its stern instructions that if “sinners entice thee, consent thou not.”
It evokes the images of my mother leading her seven children in recitation as we memorized entire books at a time including Philippians and its reminder of “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding.”
It leads me back to my grandfather’s graveside service with the hopeful words that “he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.”
While it may not be the best choice for everyone, I think it would be a sin to allow a handful of fundamentalists to claim sole ownership of such a treasure as the King James Version has been the the English-speaking world. My own copy in the old leather binding remains one of my most prized possessions. I only wish that I could say that i have learned to live its message as much as I have loved to hear its words.