This week as I was preparing for this article on the Psalms, I was reminded of why we love the King James Version of scripture. The language is so beautiful it is truly a joy to read. For an interesting perspective on the beauty of the language, I recommend Leland Ryken’s book, The Legacy of the King James Bible, which was written for the five hundredth anniversary of this beloved version.
First, let me say these comments will be rejected out of hand by many as being simplistic and naïve. I really do not care since this is my article and opinion which is not obligated to be yours. I note that it is interesting many modern readers still associate the King James Version with the words of God. We think this is the way God speaks, and in quoting scripture we freely retain the use of archaic words such as thee and thou. There seems to be a sense of authority in these old words that is not the same as when replaced with you and you for both as my spell checker is wont to do. There are also many sayings from the King James that have made their way into the vernacular. These most likely would not be remembered if they were not spoken at first in an uncommon way.
The reason I was reminded of our love for this translation is Psalms 85:10: “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” This verse speaks of Christ, and we wonder how these virtues could have been spoken more eloquently. If you compare this verse to one of the modern versions, the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), the translation is wooden and vulgar. This translation reads: “Faithful love and truth will join together, righteousness and peace will embrace.” The cadence and the removal of the word kissed makes the verse seem…well, like kissing your sister. There is not much feeling when said this way. It makes you wonder why changes are made that are wholly unnecessary. The eloquence of the language is destroyed, and quite frankly, we cannot imagine God would say it this way.
We are quite sure that God did not speak King James English since Old Testament scripture was written in Hebrew. At that time, English of any kind was unheard of. However, we can well imagine that when God spoke in man’s language it was not slangily unrefined. I do not know if my point is understood, but having grown up with the King James I have a sense of what sounds biblical and what does not. This is what the King James has done to me. It may seem strange, but I think the King James remained popular for four hundred and fifty of the past five hundred years because of its difference. We respect it as the Word of God not just for its content but also for its sweetness to the ears.
Have you noticed that since modern versions have become popular there is far less respect for the scriptures? We make more defenses of the Bible than ever before and the need seems to parallel the discarding of the King James translation. The argument goes that we need a more readable version so that we can understand better and be more interested. This is passing strange when our society has more college graduates than ever before. The understanding of science and the advancement of technology is bursting at the seams, and yet we are baffled by a few archaic words! The conclusion of the argument must be that our generation is dumber than the one before. And that point I will gladly concede.
The real problem is that if people want a Bible at all they want one that does not require deep thought or diligent study. No matter what version you read, if the translation has a modicum of truth, it will not be discovered without the Holy Spirit’s guidance. We do not believe every word of some of the modern translations is bad. The same archaic words of the King James are changed in the preaching and exposition of the text. The point is that respect for the scriptures is fostered by its difference from everyday speech. God’s Word is uncommon and the use of eloquent language in its own way adds to its mystique. “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” Do you have a lovelier and more poetic way of saying this? Didn’t think so.
Pastor V. Mark Smith