Tuesday, September 2, 2014
Going Old School: My Venture into the Greatest Literary Work Ever Written in English, The King James Bible of 1611
At 37 years of age, having been a Christian for nearly 25 years, and having served as a pastor in two Presbyterian churches, I still have not read completely through the King James Bible.
Cover to cover.
I've received two degrees in theology and am working on my third and final one. But still that fact hangs over my head. Yes, I've read dozens of Psalms and portions of the Gospels in the KJV. But Genesis to Revelation, no. (Hangs his head in shame). As to the Authorized Version, I am still a newbie.
When I was converted to Christ at age 12, well meaning Christians told me to stay away from the KJV. That it was "old fashioned." That it was "too religious." That I wouldn't understand it. That I needed a personal relationship with Christ and that a modern English translation was best. I'm sure they meant well. (Shrugs shoulders).
For years, the NIV84 served as my everyday Bible. My first year as a Christian, I read the Bible straight through. And then I did it again. And again. The NIV84 was my heart language.
When I began to study the original languages of Greek and Hebrew in college and seminary (I got pretty good at the former and still stink royally in the latter), I eventually realized that I needed a more literal, word-for-word translation of the Bible. Thus, the ESV came into my life in the mid 2000's. I latched on and never let go.
Since that time, the ESV has been my translation of choice. Literal, beautiful, authoritative, and powerful, I even led my church through a transition from the NIV84 to the ESV when we purchased all new pew Bibles. The ESV has been the translation upon which I have preached some 500 sermons, messages, and Bible studies (give or take a couple hundred). The ESV has been the text I quoted in all of my books.
But this year, I am going "old school." I turn 38 next month and I am preparing for a new venture in the world's greatest literary work ever written in the English language (and yes, I've heard of Shakespeare and I'm not backing down on that claim).
*Note: I'll still be using the ESV in church.
Briefly then, here are four reasons that I am starting this personal adventure.
1. The KJV is an excellent, word-for-word translation of the original tongues. Always has been, always will be. It is known for majestic style, accuracy, power, and beauty. Just a couple weeks of studying Greek and Hebrew, and even the seminary freshman can see how fitly the KJV renders the original languages into gorgeous English. The translators of the 1611 masterwork did great diligence and got it right. Pretty amazing for a committee!
2. It's not as hard to read as everyone makes it out to be. Go ahead and try it out on a Psalm or two. Read a chapter of Matthew or Luke. Compare what a passage in Romans says to the ESV or the NASB and you will see that it's not too terribly difficult at all. The beauty of the text will make up for any strange vocabulary that you will encounter. ("Peradventure?" Had to look that one up!) The oft-cited "thee's and thou's" are actually very beautiful and lend themselves to prayer very readily and naturally. The more you read it, the more you get used to it.
3. History. The KJV was the Bible of Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, Billy Graham and virtually every other significant figure between the 1600's and the 1900's. Nearly the entire Puritan and Colonial Calvinist movement used it. For me as a lover of history, this is a pretty significant reason. In the case of Edwards, who is my doctoral research subject, I felt compelled to throw myself into the study of his Bible as well as his thought, theology, worldview, and philosophy. We are not the first generation of Christians on Planet Earth (despite what cutting-edge coffee shop pastors in skinny jeans and horn rims might lead you to believe) and it is a rich experience to read the texts, creeds, and confessions of the generations on whose shoulders we stand. How much more so their Bible!
4. The KJV has influenced the English language that you and I speak more than any other book. Simply speaking, it is a literary gem as well as a faithful rendering of the infallible Word of God. It is shocking to consider all the ways that the KJV has become part of our everyday English. Here is an article that shows that quite well.
In the coming weeks, I will review a couple of high-end copies of the KJV that you can purchase for around $30--both bound in high quality leathers with excellent print quality and paper--to enhance your reading experience. As a general motivation, getting a new Bible every once in a while is a good incentive to launch a new personal study program! (I think a huge adventure like this calls for the treat of getting oneself a little present, don't you?)
Alright. So the launch begins in a couple of weeks. So, who's with me? Are you ready for the KJV challenge?
-Pastor Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. A confessed bibliophile, he loves the works of Jonathan Edwards, the puritans, and old and new Bibles.