A Bible, a Bible, do we need a new Bible?

Is it time for the English-speaking Church to let the venerable King James Bible retire to Bible-heaven? Why do we use the KJV in the first place? What other Bible translations do you read? I have questions, you have answers.

OK, first things first:

If you want to read about Mormons and the Bible, then read, er Mormons and the Bible by Philip Barlow.

Now, on to my questions.

1. Other Bible translations.

The latest issue of Bible Review has a great run-down of Bible translations. The English standard remains the KJV, a copy of which, according to the author, should be on the shelf of every home in the English speaking world. It’s not just a classic English text, it’s the classic English text. The KJV should be wrapped in silk and treated with awe and respect.

But when thou wantest something a little easier to read, whereto dost one turn? There are literal translations (like the RSV, which I use in class); Jewish translations; non-literal translations (like the Good News Bible). Any favourites out there? Has anyone denounced you as an apostate for using something other than the KJV. (If they do, I can point out examples from recent Ensign’s where other translations are cited.)

2. Mormons and the KJV.

Only English-speaking Mormons use the KJV (obviously). Spanish, French and German Latter-day Saints use an accepted modern translation. Lucky them. Not only does this make the Bible easier to read (is our general lack of Bible literacy a product of the relative inaccessibility of some of the KJV?), but also means that prayers don’t sound so forced. I always feel bad for foreign GA’s at General Conference who have to conjugate all their thee’s and thou’s. Sometimes even for English speakers it can be tortured.

You see, our sacred language is KJV-based, as is (or because of) our modern scripture. If the Church were to move away from the KJV where would that leave the Book of Mormon, whose language is often 16th century? It would be a funny Church where ancient scripture sounded more modern than modern scripture. That’s a big problem, and remains, IMO, the main reason why we retain the KJV. (Yes, the KJV is literal, yes, it was translated by believers, but so are many other Bibles.) In 300 years when we all speak Chinglish, things will have to change…

… 3. In the meantime, though, should we bid adieu to the KJV? Vote now:


  1. “It’s not just a classic English text, it’s the classic English text.”

    I think that statement alone is a good enough argument to keep it. Nothing against reading other versions, but I think there is great value in the language of KJV. I’m not prepared to defend exactly why at the moment, but simply put, I think there is great literary value in the KJV, and it’s not just an aesthetic thing, I think there’s meaning and rhetoric in the language of the KJV that isn’t found in the others. I realize that’s a strong claim that needs defending, but that’s just my two cents for now.

  2. Steve Evans says:

    After the Tyndale-fest that was Conference, I think we’re stuck with the KJV for quite some time.

  3. That’s a big problem, and remains, IMO, the main reason why we retain the KJV.

    I agree. The BoM mirrors KJV language and it just won’t do to leave the BoM hanging like that.

  4. Yep, Eric, I think you’re going to have to defend that further. Modern translations are not mechanical texts, devoid of beauty.

  5. There should have been another option:

    the JST.

  6. I think the KJV has become a major impediment to understanding the Bible among Latter-day Saints. It’s a great literary book, granted. So is Canterbury Tales. Most people these days can’t really read either, though. So the RSV all the way, in my view.

    Of course, I think we should also use a modern version of the Book of Mormon. There’s an emerging view that the original translation was not in any sense perfect, so we shouldn’t get too hung up on that. Furthermore, we produce translations into other languages all the time. Why not a 21st-century BofM? Once again, the goal is increasing understanding. Why should we want to preserve a version of the text that has become an impediment to understanding?

  7. I love the KJV issue. My two Lincolns:

    I like it’s “oldness,” and the traditions it created (like the erroneous pronunciation of “Yahweh” to “Jehovah”). I like that King James was an open and overt homosexual and yet interested in the Bible. Maybe there’s hope for the guy in the hereafter. I like that most people don’t notice that when they recite the “Our Father” prayer in church, they’re doing it out of the KJV.

    What I don’t like about it: 1). It’s liberties in Hebrew translation. The first that comes to mind is Isa. 26:19 (which is theologically loaded in the KJV, but not so much in the Hebrew). There are TONS of others (I used to have a list going, but have since quit adding to it). The Greek is OK at times, but then again, Greek isn’t all that problematic (thanks to case endings). The Aramaic sections of Ezra and Daniel are the worst, especially with the uses of the genitive and some of the hapax legomena. Scholarship has come a long way in helping to pinpoint some of the problematic translations. 2). When there was ambiguity in the creation of the OT section of the KJV, the “translators” often went to the LXX. This would be somewhat of a “circular” translation, because the translators of the LXX were translating from the Hebrew. Ever translate into one language and then back again? 3). The old English conjugations. The original languages don’t have a familiar “thee” or “ye” form — it’s all “you,” “your,” etc. It simplifies meaning to use “you” and investigators are more prone to understand what we’re talking about if we avoid the “thee”/”ye” forms. And as far as the BofM language is concerned, when I read it out loud with my family, I replace the “thee” and “ye” with “you” and the “thine” with “your.” I also conjugate the verbs normally (ie, instead of “quickeneth” I say “quickens”). Try it. It sounds great! And you don’t have to spit so much while reading.

    I use the updated NASB (1995) and the JPS for the OT and the NASB for the NT. And when I’m feeling frisky enough to use a lexicon, then I use the DJW… :)

    Bottom line: Lo! the KJV sucketh.

  8. I think “the Church” should continue to use the KJV. I think its members, by contrast, should study other translations as well for understanding. Why can’t we have two, a personal study Bible, and a public preaching Bible? (I’m waiting for a General Authority to express my opinion to the Church explicitly. They’ve already done it implicitly…)

    As for myself, I do my daily study out of a NIV Study Bible (I like the notes) with my Hebrew BHS open next to it, and Bibleworks and Logos, and the Church CD rom (for JST) open next to that.

    I’ve taught Institute and Temple Prep using that NIV Study Bible, and recommended it to people. (The NIV is preapproved for religion classes at BYU.)

  9. Julie in Austin says:

    Ronan, you’ve forgotten what I think is one of the best reasons for continued use of the KJV: no one who reads it is deluded into thinking that they understand it completely. That’s a good thing.

    And I think the solution is, like, so obvious that it barely deserves mentioning: turn over seminary and Institute to the study of Hebrew and Greek, and then the Saints could read everything in the original languages.

  10. Ben: “Church CD rom”

    Resource edition, I hope! I like the CD, but I’m tired of the Strong’s Concordance making it into LDS church software. Maybe it’s public domain or something. The Strong’s has lead so many innocent people into common word-study fallacies (the most common is the “illegitimate totality transfer” discussed by James Barr in Semantics of Biblical Language and D. A. Carson in Exegetical Fallacies). Like you said in the rosh hashanah post yesterday, Bibleworks is a great product with decent lexicons, and you can’t beat the price for the Koehler-Baumgartner (H.A.L.O.T.) + the B.D.A.G. package. Also, have you bought the Qumran database? I’m thinking of picking it up (it’s the only add-on I don’t have), but nobody I know has it (or even cares as much as I do).

  11. Aaron Brown says:

    I’m not a big fan of the KJV, for a number of reasons. I agree with RoastedTomtatoes that its archaic prose is a serious impediment to Biblical understanding, as well as an impediment to members’ motivation to study the text.

    There are, however, a number of reasons why our jettisoning of the KJV as our “official text” is very unlikely. A few:

    1. We are used to associating 16th Century English with “scripture.” If we start using a more modern text, it will throw everybody off. Geoff J’s point that the KJV mirrors the BoM text is true enough, and this only makes the notion of updating our Bible translation even more unlikely.

    2. The Church has invested quite a bit of time and effort into creating a cross-referencing/footnote system that is tied to the KJV. If we start using other Biblical transations, all that effort will arguably have been in vain.

    3. The KJV text plays a major role in the story of early Mormonism. Try to imagine what would happen if we used an updated text… As things currently stand, an investigator or member can hear about (or read about) Joseph Smith’s coming upon James 1:5, and realizing for the first time that he needed to ask God, “who giveth to all men liberally.” The investigator or member can currently then turn to James 1:5, and read the very same language that Joseph Smith read. I think that’s a potentailly powerful exercise for many, and one that wouldn’t resonate nearly so well if, upon reading James 1:5, one were to simply find an updated text. Don’t underestimate how significant the precise language is, as we try to recapitulate Joseph’s experience.

    There are surely other reasons, but these are three that come to my mind. I’m not sure how I feel about them as justifications for continuing to read an arcane text, but any efforts to argue for a change should try to at least address these issues.

    Aaron B

  12. Daylan Darby says:

    I look forward to reading the Bible in Adamic! 8-)

  13. Julie in Austin said: “turn over seminary and Institute to the study of Hebrew and Greek, and then the Saints could read everything in the original languages.”

    Because ancient Greek and Hebrew are so much easier for native English speakers to pick up than early modern English.

    People who have problems with understanding the language of KJV/BoM/D&C need to read their scripture more. It ain’t that hard. There may be good reasons for ditching the KJV, but the difficulty of the language shouldn’t be one of them.

    Japanese members and investigators used to complain about the difficulty of the language in the Japanese BoM before then most recent translation was issued. I never found it to be too hard. Granted, I had the advantage of being very familiar with the English text, but studying it for 30 minutes a day meant that even with my somewhat limited Japanese skills I could understand the old translation just fine after a few months.

    Now the Japanese D&C, that’s hard language. Many Japanese members who know some English read it in English rather than the classical Japanese translation.

    As for the KJV, I’m sticking with it until told otherwise. I love the sound. I have to believe that some inspiration was involved in its production.

  14. And Ronan, check out my post on Kulturblog.

  15. Aaron Brown: I don’t associate the 16th Century-isms with scripture, but rather with A Clockwork Orange. “[T]hou fat jelly eunuch, thou!”

    And I give my standard answer when pressed as to why I’m so intimately familiar with any given R-rated movie: I saw the edited version on an airplane.

  16. Can anyone recommend Nicholson’s “God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible”? I picked up a remaindered copy for cheap but haven’t looked at it yet. I’m hoping for something as interesting as Simon Winchester’s books on the OED. Also, it need only be mostly true–I’m not really a stickler for, you know, actual scholarship.

  17. OK, who can out-geek David J.

  18. I’m so unscholarly, but I would really like to know — where do these modern translations of the Bible come from? Are there “original” Bible texts? Who has them? Where are they being kept? Or are all these modern version just being re-translated from the KJV anyway?
    And I was always taught that “we” didn’t read other versions because they were “wrong”! :-) (And it really isn’t all that difficult to understand. If we as a church and a culture completely modernize this language, soon it will be lost. Shakespeare’s sonnet’s are way more difficult than KJV bible, don’t you think?)

  19. gst,
    I’m actually reading that book right now. I’m about 1/3 through it. I’m no scholar myself so I can’t say too much about the scholarship of it, but overall it’s very interesting. He’s still setting up the context, but it seems pretty good so far.

  20. Meems, there are very old manuscripts of the Bible, although there aren’t any “originals” in the handwriting of the Apostles or whatever. The old texts are mainly in library special collections and museums in various parts of the world. Images of them and transcriptions of them in the original language are often available for academic study. New translations go back to the source, although they often also look at other translations to see how they’ve solved specific problems. For the most part, these aren’t revisions of the KJV; they’re new renditions of the original. They also tend to correct some errors in the KJV understanding of the original manuscripts.

  21. Wow, thanks, RT. If many members are feeling troubled by the language of the KJV, I wonder if the idea has ever come up authorize a modern LDS version of the Bible going back to the ancient texts and also incorporating the JST in with it. There are certainly enough ancient language LDS scholars out there who could accomplish this prayerfully. Or would this just alienate non-members and new converts even more, saying, they have their “own” bible”? hmm.

  22. “Resource edition, I hope! I like the CD, but I’m tired of the Strong’s Concordance making it into LDS church software.”

    I think Strong’s *is* public domain. I just use the CD for quick references, and things like dates in the D&C section headings, which didn’t make it into my BW version.

    What would you replace Strong’s with, for the common man? Or should we leave people completely ignorant of the underlying language? Or perhaps we should all give talks in Sacrament about exegetical fallacies, and the principle of lexio difficilor preferanda est?

    I have the Qumran module for BW. The morphology is tagged differently than the WTM, and I find it difficult to run searches on. That said, it’s better than nuthin…

    I keep meaning to read Barr. After my exams.

    Again, I say let the Church keep the KJV as the public Bible, but if you really want to get anything at all out of Paul, pick up something else for private use.

  23. Meems — To add to what’s already been said, translators do their best to figure out the original language of the writers. In recent years, the Dead Sea Scrolls have been used to get more authentic language for some of the Old Testament. Fortunately, the best manuscripts available aren’t all that different than the ones used for KJV, and most of the differences are of mostly academic interest. It is interesting, though, to see areas where the text has been corrupted. The main differences are a few additions, such as the trinitarian formula of 1 John 5:7 and the ending of Mark, where it appears that some long-forgotten scribe somewhere felt that something was missing.

    I don’t know how many modern translations there are total, but you can probably find about 15 or so in a large Christian bookstore. Most of the recent ones have been done by evangelical Protestant scholars, although there are also some done by mainline Protestants (the New Revised Standard Version, a good solid translation) and Catholics (my favorite, the New Jerusalem Bible).

    The main differences are in translation philosophy; some are more literal than others. There is also some difference in the reading level. There is some theological bias in some of the translations (as there was in the KJV), but I’d have a hard time coming up with anything in any decent translation that contradicts LDS theology. These days the controversy in Biblical translation is over gender-inclusive language (such as avoiding just “he” when speaking of males and females); it’s a difficult issue to deal with, because the English language itself has become politicized.

    Anyway, to throw in my $0.02: If I had to limit my studies to the KJV, I wouldn’t get any Bible study done at all. I agree that our nearly exclusive use of it can be a stumbling block. Because no translation is perfect, I’m not sure I’d want to see an officially endorsed alternative to the KJV. But the next time someone puts together a new interdenominational translation team, I’d like to see some LDS scholars in the group.

  24. Ben S.
    Thanks for out-geeking David J.

  25. I was once called in for an interview because there’d been rumors that I was teaching Institute with the NRSV. My response was that I’d either teach directly from the Greek using my own free-ranging, on the spot translations or use the NRSV and that if there was a problem with that I was happy to be released.

    The Bishop read the handbook to me about the KJV being the official text we should use in our meetings to which I responded that I had not outlawed the KJV in my classroom, always had my copy of that translation present, and had a strong desire for my students to actually understand Paul. An exception was made (not least because people had actually started to attend Institute again) and I continued teaching as before.

    While I think there are some real problems with the NRSV (especially with certain passages in the Old Testament and also in Luke), I still think it is one of the best translations available.

  26. What would you replace Strong’s with, for the common man? Or should we leave people completely ignorant of the underlying language? Or perhaps we should all give talks in Sacrament about exegetical fallacies, and the principle of lexio difficilor preferanda est?

    The common man probably ought to go to William Holladay’s Concise HALOT (an abbreviated K-B), or a BDB. The root can be looked up with strong’s numbers in the back of a BDB before going to the correct page number and quadrant. But then again, even BDB has issues (missing the hishtaphel stem, for example). As far as Greek, a decent English equivalent should do (NASB or NKJV). I’ve had 3 semesters of Greek and never really found the need to use it over and against the English versions.

    Sac. talks probably aren’t the best place for text criticism. Don’t ask me how I know that.

    Going back to the beginning w/ Ronan’s post — I pray with the familiar “you” and “your” forms and one of my fellow scoutmasters attempted to reprimand me for it. All I had to say is “prayer is from the heart, not the mouth” and he understood.

  27. I can’t help but wish that the Bible were still taught in schools. Like RT said w/ Canterbury Tales, the Bible has had such a huge impact–“the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities”. (EX: “60 percent of allusions in one English Advanced Placement prep course came from the Bible”).

    And, as others have said, the language is just beautiful and for me allows a breaking point from the world around me and my studies. Honestly, I’m a bit shocked to hear that some members use other versions. Like Meems, I always thought that was pooh-poohed. My sis picked up a newer translation, giving her the ability and desire to really study her scriptures. But, I was still rather aloof about the whole thing–and the options available to my nonmemeber friends is quite overwhelming for me.

    I don’t want to part with my dearly beloved leather-bound KJV, but would be happy to have other versions around for study and comparison. But–I know this is a bit prudish for me–if it ain’t sold at Deseret Books, I’d be scared of what I’m getting……..

    (Article I cited about Bible literacy…. http://www.townhall.com/news/ap/online/regional/us/D8CPG8H80.html )

  28. Anne,
    Yes, that is prudish.

  29. Alternate translations:

    OT: KJV + Jewish Publication Society Tanach + Everett Fox’s Five Books of Moses

    NT: KJV + Concordant Literal New Testament + New American Standard

    When teaching Gospel Doctrine, I’ve used the JPS and NAS in class to clarify obscure passages in the KJV and have never been called to task for it.

    I am shocked, simply shocked, Ben would use the NIV, an obviously mass market Evangelical paraphrased edition. Apostasy cannot be far off!!! If you want a study Bible with good footnotes and explanatory stuff, and you dont want to line the pockets of the Evangelical front, then get the Ryrie Study Bible.

  30. I’m glad Ben and Melissa mentioned Paul. I find the epistles of Paul in the KJV to be impenetrable, so I really enjoy other translations.

    In my more cynical moments, I think church leaders are happier if we don’t spend too much time reading Paul, because he doesn’t seem very mormon (for example 1 Corinthians 7).

  31. Gosh, I feel so Protestant, arguing over Bible translations :)

    I’ve never looked at the Ryrie notes, to be honest.

    Melissa, interesting story. I’ve used my NIV in front of the regional Institute supervisor, and he didn’t bat an eye. (He’s a retired business guy who went into CES, not professional CES. Perhaps that makes a difference?)

    Anne: Are the options between being literary and misunderstadning or less-literary and understanding? In other words, I don’t see anyone argue for the KJV on the basis of what they learn from it, but becuase of a) tradition and b) literary qualities. Though reading the scriptures for spirituality is commendable, I think it’s reasonable to want and expect to understand what we’re reading.

    Does anyone really understand the exhortation in 2 Timothy 4:2 “be instant in season, out of season” in the KJV? What does it mean to be “instant” ? Just about any other translation gives us a good principle, “be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient” (NAB).

    Does the KJV have merits beyond its language (with its connection to the scriptures JS brought forth) and weight of tradition?

  32. I am shocked, simply shocked, Ben would use the NIV, an obviously mass market Evangelical paraphrased edition.

    It’s not as paraphrased as you might think, man. CBD.com, in their Bible section, has a nice little chart which shows the biblical translation “spectrum.” On the left end is a very literal translation, and on the right end is a very free translation. They stick the translations on the chart to show you how literal they are. You’ll notice the updated NASB on the far left, and translations like the NLT on the far right. The KJV is on the left, but there are others that are “closer” to the original languages than the KJV.

    Oh, and you don’t have to buy an NIV in order to get the “study edition” notes. You can buy “study” or “academic” editions in just about any translation. I recommend picking up the HarperCollins Atlas of the Bible for that sort of thing.

    And I agree w/ Ed — reading too much Paul makes you think outside the “box” (Romans 4:1ff anyone?). Actually, reading Joseph Smith can be “bad” too — D&C 112:23-26, KFD sermon, etc.

  33. Ben, I’m not saying that modern translations “aren’t literary”. Yes, there are many layers of understanding and interpretations that can be drawn from the scriptures–literal, historical, personal, symbolic….. Of course I would want people to have access to translations that are accessible and understandable. I find it sad that the older English texts are challenging to many people–if we’re talking about the vernacular. But I’m afraid that modern translations, in an attempt to be easily understood, would sacrifice some of it’s symbolic character.

    Someone must make a Bible that has the KJV on one page juxstaposed against a modern translation on the other–like some editions of Paradise Lost…

  34. Anne: Those durn protestants think of everything! What you’re looking for is a parallel Bible, KJV/NRSV or something similar. See the list of available parallel bibles here.

  35. ed,

    Of course Paul isnt Mormon, hes a born again Pharisaical Jew. The problem isnt that he isnt a Mormon, its that Mormons shy away from him, and therefore misunderstand him, because of the Evangelical’s selective usage of his writings to promote their “saved by Grace” agenda. Admittedly, the KJV is problematic in the Pauline letters.


    I bet if you look at the OED an archaic usage of “instant” would be derived from its Latin roots, suggesting “to stand firm” or something like that: [Middle English, from Old French, from Latin nstns, nstant-, present, present participle of nstre, to approach : in-, on; see in-2 + stre, to stand; see st- in Indo-European Roots.]

    David J,

    I was poking fun at Ben. Its not that bad, not much worse than any other, but its connection to the Evangelical community, which is getting kickbacks from Zondervan for promoting it, is what impeaches it in most people’s eyes. One that is much more unfairly maligned is the Good News Bible.

    And I take exception to the KFD being “bad”, the problem with that one is people go to it with pre-conceived notions and are too lazy to pick up a dictionary to look up strange usages of obscure words. And I’m not sure whats bad about D&C 112:23-26. Thats typical Day of the Lord language, litters the D&C and the OT Prophets. WHats the problem with Romans 4:1? Kinda plain, isnt it? Its just Paul arguing the even Abraham was not Justified (soteriologically speaking) by his works, and he is the eminent example of righteousness for Jews.

  36. Great post, Ronan. I’m late to the party, but I’ll line up behind RT’s comment no. 6 — the KJV is an impediment to modern understanding, at least of the Bible on its own terms. However, I don’t believe those who run the Church are much interested in the members of the Church understanding the Bible on its own terms, so they have no problem with the KJV. The continued displacement of Bible scriptures (in Conference quotes and official publications) by LDS scriptures is another sign of the same line of thinking. The LDS edition of the Bible is, I’m afraid, part of the problem rather than a step in the right direction.

    Reading Barlow’s Mormons and the Bible, I was struck by the hubris of some LDS leaders who never even bothered to master the original languages yet who held themselves out as authorities on the Bible. There seems to be an overreliance on revelation when often what is needed is dedicated learning. Maybe we need some Mormon monks, perhaps a Holy Order of St. Joseph, to fill the gap.

  37. Dorito: (Man, that sounds wierd. I’ve never addressed snack food before.) The etymology is as you say. My point wasn’t that the passage can’t be understood, but that if all you’re reading is the KJV, you’re not going to have a clue. I’d bet most members don’t even know what the OED is.

  38. Dorito (sweet name, BTW),

    I too take exception to the KFD being “bad.” My brother is a SS teacher, and he and I both love the KFD, and he tried teaching bits and pieces of it during one of his SS lessons this year. It upset some people, and he was reprimanded by his bishop for it. Mainstream membership hates it. In my post I was just speaking about the masses. I happen to wish it were more widely accepted, as it does explain theodicy, theogony, and the seemingly contradictory pre-mortal spirit obstetrics (sex, gestation, and birth), vs. the eternal, self-existing nature of souls (cf. Abr. 3:18). I love the KFD, which is why the word “bad” is in quotes.

    Again, I’m well aware of the Day of the Lord language. My idea in pointing out D&C 112:23-26 was that most membership (and even DC commentators!) totally ignore these verses because they see themselves as the cause of the calamities (probably out of a misunderstanding of what “my house” means). So maintreamers again see these verses as “bad.” That’s why I put the word “bad” in quotation marks in my original post. I happen to love these verses (especially in light of Matt. 7:21-23).

    Pointing out Romans 4:1ff was to illustrate the antinomian/anti-legalistic tone of the passage. That should offend most LDS “check-listers” who feel that ONLY their works will save them (assuming they’ve read it).

    I’m with you, man.

  39. Aaron’s point re: the footnotes is important; it also points us in the most important reason why we will continue to use the KJV:

    A. copyright. We can use the KJV text as we please, and did, with the footnotes. Try approaching Zondervan about approval to use its Bible (the NIV I believe). Not going to happen.

  40. I completely disagree with two oft-made assertion about the KJV:

    1. The prose is beautiful — it’s not. In fact, it’s awful.
    2. The prose is difficult because it is archaic — it’s not; it’s difficult because it’s dreadful.

    Bertrand Russell once commented that people wrote better in general when families read the bible aloud, because they learned what English was supposed to sound like, and he was referring to the KJV. Thank goodness he was wrong. Nobody ever talked or wrote English like the KJV did. It’s an unsystematic combination of different translations, made at different times, translated with varying degrees of quality, at a time when the English language was still very much in a flux. Sure, it has its moments, but there’s a huge difference between being quotable and being well written. Make no mistake: The KJV is very poorly written by today’s standards.

    As far as the prose being difficult due to archaisms, that’s nonsense. I’ve read more than half the plays of Shakespeare, and I’m quite comfortable with Elizabethan and Jacobean English. The KJV is inscrutable because it’s poorly written, not because of thee’s and thou’s.

    Here’s the example I used in an argument I had about it with Jim F. at T&S, when I randomly opened my trusty 1979 LDS KJV to a scripture. It turned out to be Jeremiah 36:6:

    KJV: And Jeremiah commanded Baruch, saying I am shut up; I cannot go into the House of the LORD. Therefore go thou, and read in the roll, which thou hast written from my mouth, the words of the LORD in the ears of the people in the LORD’s house upon the fasting day: and also thou shalt read them in the ears of all Judah that come out of their cities. It may be they will present their supplication before the LORD, and will return every one from his evil way: for great is the anger and the fury that the LORD hath pronounced against this people.

    Jewish Publication Society (1985): Jeremiah instructed Baruch, “I am in hiding; I cannot go to the House of the LORD. But you go and read aloud the words of the LORD from the scroll which you wrote at my dictation, to all the people in the House of the LORD on fast day; thus you will also be reading to all the Judeans who come in from the towns. Perhaps their entreaty will be accepted by the LORD, if they turn back from their wicked ways. For great is the anger and wrath with which the LORD has threatened this people.”

    It’s not that the meaning of the KJV rendition is obsured by language, it’s that it simply is not clear. And the JPS transition is substantially clearer.

    Then there are scriptures like Psalm #1, which as rendered in the KJV are trite and insipid, but quite powerful when properly rendered, as they are in the JPS or NRSV.

    Then there are the advances in understanding of Hebrew and Greek. There are turns of phrase that we now understand that made little sense before. An analogy in English would go like this: Some day, thousands of years hence, English may be a dead language, and someone might see something written like, “He’d go to the store on Fridays.” Since English is a dead language, they may not understand that “He’d” is a contraction. Thus, they’d guess that it was an alternate form of “head,” so that it would come out “head go to the store on Fridays” and this would be figuratively rendered “Think about the store on Fridays” with a footnote saying that the original text was unclear. The KJV is riddled with mistakes analogous to this one.

    I could go on and on. I contend that we should drop the KJV forthwith. It’s terribly written, inconsistently translated, based on unreliable documents (that’s a topic for a different day that has been touched on in earlier comments), and derived from an absolute understanding of ancient Greek and Hebrew.

    My recommendations: Go with the JPS for the Old Testament and the RSV for the New Testament.

  41. Strident comments, DKL. I have a trusty JPS Tanakh and also like the RSV (or the NRSV of the Harper Collins Study Bible).

    BTW, the comment DKL links to is worth pursuing. It was from T&S’s 12 questions with Philip Barlow. The same topic comes up there.

    Interesting isn’t it that the poll shows a lead for the KJV. I might have thought BCC readers to be more progressive. Perhaps that’s yet another myth…

    DKL, you should write somewhere about the “problems” with the KJV. Drop me an email…

  42. Frank the Fish 'N Chip Man says:

    Ronan stole my fish and chips again. It was a nice battered cod from the North Sea, dripping with vinegar. Limey git.

  43. Bravo, DKL. Well put.

    Does anyone know of a monograph which runs through this very “KJV only” issue? I hear a lot of the “KJV only” debate among my peers (none of whom are LDS) and would be interested in reading about the problems in the KJV from someone who has devoted a large chunk of time to its problems instead of just the cursory eye-rolling that I give it on occasion while doing translation. No LDS sources, please.

  44. I’ve never found a single source. The items that I mention are just items that I’ve accumulated studying the Bible since I was a teenager (I turned on the King James version just before I went on my [abortive] mission, after about the 5th time I’d read it and the 2nd time I’d read other translations.)

    As far as the writing in the KJV being of terribly low quality, I invite anyone to do a comparison with a well written Bible (RSV, NRSV, The New Jerusalem Bible, The Revised English Bible, the JSP tranlation [both the 1920 and 1985 versions] — not the NIV, The New American Bible, which is poorly written). For every commandingly quotable passage in the KJV that rings with Jacobean poetry (e.g., “choose you this day whom ye will serve…”), there are scores of others that are trite, mundane, or obscure compared to their correct rendering in good translations (I’ve already offered my comparison of a random selection of Jeremiah and mentioned Psalms 1). The notion that the KJV is good writing is sheer myth; this biblical emperor has no cloths.

  45. Clarification: when I say “I turned on the King James version,” I mean to say that I turned against it.

  46. I’m a fan of the Jerusalem Bible which is what I typically use when I’m not using the KJV. (Which, despite what DKL says, I rather like — and I do tend to agree with Russell that reading it will improve reading and writing although probably for the same reason that playing etudes will improve playing regular music)

    I’d add that which translation you use depends upon what you are doing.

    As for dropping the KJV, the obvious problem as has been frequently noted are all the KJV quotations in the rest of our scriptures, not to mention allusions which are lost without familiarity with the KJV. You’d pretty much have to retranslate everything. Since I consider the latterday scriptures as more important than the Bible, I say keep things as they are and use an alternative version for your personal study of the Bible.

  47. Clark, you wouldn’t have to retranslate anything. Many of the scriptures in the New Testament, for example, quote the LXX in places where it is different from MT. There’s no reason to attempt to render the New Testament quotations such that they match the Old Testament, and no major translation attempts this. Likewise, there’s no reason to attempt to render Book of Mormon quotations such that they match any given translation. Indeed, sometimes the doctrinal points hinge on the wording of the KJV, which is changed in other versions. Moreover, when we translate the BoM in other languages, there is no need to render the Biblical quotations such that they match the prevalent Bible of that culture. Why should we do the same in English?

    I don’t like the original Jerusalem Bible, because it was based too heavily on the French translation. The New Jerusalem Bible, though, is quite good (I list it above as one of the better written Bibles), though the name is unfortunate, since what they mean is “The Revised Jerusalem Bible” but the name they’ve chosen sounds rather more apocalyptic than I think they intended.

    As far as the question of whether the KJV is good English and deserves to be modeled by fluent speakers of the language, I think that my examples speak for themselves.

    I agree that what you’re doing has a big impact on which Bible you use. I bring a KJV with me to church, because it came for free with my triple combination ;) And Friedman’s Torah is (IMHO) far and away the finest translation of the Pentateuch.

  48. DKL,

    Its easy to badmouth the KJV now given whats happened in the past 100 years or so with respect to philology, textual criticism and printing technology. But for its age and the political, social and religious context out of which it came, it is simply an extraordinary and preeminent masterwork. When it was originally written, there was no Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, language was coarse and polyglot and writing was more art than science. The text is dated compared to modern scholarly translations, but give the old man his due.

  49. Extreme Dorito, I’ll readilly concede that the KJV is the Beowulf of Bible translations.

  50. Incidentally, concerning the modern language Book of Mormon, the RLDS church published one in the 60s. It’s still available as (if I remember correctly) the 1966 Revised Version. I’ve got one home, and it doesn’t represent any great progress (plus, it’s got all the wrong [i.e., non-Orson] chapter and verse divisions).

    People have talked about how the Book of Mormon uses KJV language. Except where it’s quoting the KJV, it really doesn’t. If it weren’t for the fact that the BoM does spend so much time quoting the KJV (or at least, the non-italicized portions of it), it would be very hard for me to see how anyone who reads them both with any frequency could make that mistake. The Book of Mormon’s English is very much located in the tradition of heavy-handed, nineteenth century religious-speak which borrowed some of the more quotable formations of the KJV, but has an altogether different rhythm and feel to it. (This was true even before the Talmage corrections.)

  51. john fowles says:

    I’ve got th RLDS 1966 version too. An RLDS investigator of mine in Berlin in 1996 (yes, there was actually an RLDS branch there) gave it to me. A wonderful gift, especially since by then, the RLDS weren’t really believing in the BoM anymore, but I did/do, so the gift meant a lot to me.

  52. DKL, my preferred modern-language BoM (which does, I think, represent a substantial improvement in clarity and readability) is the work-in-progress by Serenity Valley located here.

  53. Some authors in the NT quote from the LXX because for them, as Greek speakers, it was more accessable. Others, notably Paul, actually looked at the Hebrew (which DID exist before the Masoretes — e.g. Qumranites had a pre-Masoretic Hebrew/Aramaic text) and made his own move from the Hebrew into the Greek. Remember, Paul was trained as a good little Jewish boy, and probably had much of Torah memorized (and attended the school of Gamaliel – Acts 22:3). So some NT passages seem to pull right out of the LXX and others don’t. Some seem like sort of a gray-area between the two (fanciful exegesis? Cf. Mark 1). All this I asked just yesterday of one of my NT professors here at school and that was his response, and I dig it.

  54. A defense of bad prose…..I read extremely quickly and the KJV prose actually helps me to slow down. It doesn’t increase understanding too much, but it does make me think about what I’m reading a little more, which is a nice spiritual benefit.

    I differentiate between understanding and spiritual benefit in the sense of understanding what is being said as opposed to why it’s important to me.

    This discussion has inspired me to look into another version of the Bible, though.

  55. I think we should keep the KJV. There are a lot of reasons for this and I believe most or all of them have already been stated in this thread.

    Arguing about which modern or literal translations of the Bible are best seems fairly useless and pointless to me. Members of the Church would benefit a lot more if at some point, at any point, during their lifetimes they took time to study Biblical Hebrew or New Testament Greek. It might seem like too much to ask … but then again, we do place an awful lot of emphasis on the importance of scripture study and religious education.

  56. Danithew, we do place a lot of emphasis on scripture study, but I’ve never heard the members be encouraged by top leadership to learn the original languages! I think that would be great, but it seems to me that a very small percentage will have the time, ability, and motivation to actually do that. So what should we do for the rest? Continue to use a text that prevents them from understanding the Bible?

    I agree that the arguments over which specific text is best are fairly unhelpful. Most of the decent modern texts are so much better than the KJV, though, that the arguments are really over details. We have a top-down church, so the central leadership could simply pick one of the decent modern texts and impose it on all of us as the text for use in meetings. Then there’d be no debate and a dramatic improvement in our ability to understand and discuss the Bible.

  57. Re: 1966 RLDS BoM. It was actually put forward as a replacement for the 1908 Authorized Edition, but the General Conference voted it down. (Yes they do those sorts of things at RLDS/CoC General Conferences, not just listent to the Leaders.)

    My copy of the book has a paper label pasted over the words “1966 Authorized Edition.” Apparently the Board of Publication expected the revision to pass muster, and printed up a bunch in advance of the conference.

    Of course, the fact that it was voted down doesn’t affect its availability. You can still buy that version from Herald House.

    (Sorry for the slight thread-jack, but y’all brought it up. I now return you to your scheduled programming.)

  58. The problem isnt that he isnt a Mormon, its that Mormons shy away from him, and therefore misunderstand him, because of the Evangelical’s selective usage of his writings to promote their “saved by Grace” agenda.

    It bugs me every time I read some anti-Mormon (or even someone who isn’t but is making the faith-only argument) quote Ephesians 2:8-9. They never go on to read verse 10. See the brief analysis under “exegesis” here.

    One of the problems of the KJV (and of the Book of Mormon in the way it is printed) is that it breaks everything up into verses. It is very easy to lose the train of thought, a problem made worse by the archaic language. And that lends itself to proof-texting.

    Admittedly, the KJV is problematic in the Pauline letters.

    I’d like to see that statement elaborated. The personal irony for me of that comment is that one of the reasons I ended up becoming LDS is because there were too many things in the Bible that simply did not line up with the evangelical Protestant theology I grew up with. And that includes the letters of Paul. The more I read them, especially in modern translation, the more I see LDS theology (not LDS culture) in them. Paul did not believe in salvation by faith alone, far from it, at least if one believes that faith is an intellectual action only. Time and time again he makes clear that faith and works go together, even in that passage from Ephesians. And it’s clear to me as well that Paul didn’t believe in what is now the traditional Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Whenever he’s talking about God and Jesus, he always talks about them as two distinct individuals, with Jesus acting on behalf of God the Father. At least that’s the way I see it.

    And, BTW, in my opinion the NIV shouldn’t be used as an example of a good modern translation, as popular as it is. It’s reasonably accurate (although with some theological bias) but is written at about a sixth-grade level. It’s hard to write at that level and maintain much elegance of language, which some of the other translations do (such as the New Jerusalem Bible).

  59. And it’s clear to me as well that Paul didn’t believe in what is now the traditional Christian doctrine of the Trinity.

    Amen. He couldn’t have believed in the Christian doctrine of Trinity because it didn’t exist yet. Trinity was the result of Council of Nicea (and later Chalcedon) in the 3rd and 4th centuries C.E. It was issues such as docetism, Marcion’s anti-semitism, and gnosticism which eventually sent concern for doctrinal clarification up the chain of command until the Bishop of Rome called the ecumenical council to finally settle all these issues (and more) in 325 C.E. at Nicea.

    Trinity in scripture is difficult to nail down, and I’ve even had evangelical religion professors admit that. It seems actually to swing the other way (John 17:11; Acts 7:55-56; etc.).

    What is most interesting to me is this: how does a 1st century pious Jew and fierce monotheist, now converted to Christianity, justify the worship of Jesus (Matt. 28:9) and also the traditional God, or the God who Jesus worshipped, without being a polytheist?

    It seems that the consolidation of deities into “one” would both satisfy the new idea of worshipping Jesus and also the worship of God. Hence “three in one.” Patrick D. Miller, one of my favorite Israelite religion scholars, briefly mentions this in the back of his book The Religion of Ancient Israel on page 209: “…the monotheistic thrust so central to the religion of ancient Israel perdured, securely at the center of Judaism and Islam and in Christianity leading to the central doctrine of the Trinity as a way of accounting for the revelation of God in Jesus Christ without abandoning what Jewish and Gentile Christians had come to know about the oneness of that God.”

    Very interesting stuff.

  60. Roasted Tomatoes, I can agree that a lot of people, most people, may never have time to study Hebrew or Greek. Probably it’s a bit too much to ask with all that we already have in our lives. At the same time we see kids spend four years attending seminary. A lot of them go to BYU and other universities and take all kinds or religious instruction or institute classes. They serve missions. In our church classes we go through the scriptures every four years. We are told to have personal daily scripture study and family devotionals. Etc. and etc.

    If people are going to spend lifetimes studying the scriptures, in classes and in their homes, personally and in their families — perhaps they could find a way to dabble a little in Hebrew or Greek.

    But again, I concede it might be back-breaking for many people to ask that. There are more needful things.

  61. Danithew, you’re raising an interesting point. Perhaps it would be more effective for the church to spend some of that extensive church-educational time on Hebrew and Greek training.

  62. Having studied ancient Greek, I don’t think that people would get much out knowing Greek or Hebrew of it until they developed a substantial proficiency (at least not much more than reading a well annotated study Bible). But developing a substantial proficiency is not enough, it must also be maintained, and that takes considerable effort as well. Given that studying the scriptures is a means to an end (rather than an end in-and-of-itself), I think that the effort required to learn such languages would go way past the point of diminishing returns. The real problem is that the KJV is a substandard translation by today’s standards. And standards of Biblical translation are much higher now than they were 4 centuries ago, if for no other reason than there is more competition.

    Moreover, learning Koine Greek doesn’t solve the basic problem, because there really isn’t any such thing as The New Testament, only different versions that represent aggregates of 10s of thousands of variant readings and the best guesses of some editor or editorial board. We could go with the Byzantine-heavy Textus Receptus (J. Rueben Clark’s reason for preferring the KJV, though he seemed to lack a clear idea of exactly what it was) or go with the more popular plethora of Alexendrian-leaning Westcott-Hort derived texts, and we’re back with the same problem of which scriptures to read.

    Danithew, I’m perplexed why you see a problem identifying the relative merits and demerits of modern (or ancient) translations. And though I don’t see any point in arguing over which is best in any objective sense, I think it’s pretty obvious that there are some very deficient translations (including, for example, the New World Translation [aka., the Green Dragon] and the KJV).

  63. Dave said: “I don’t believe those who run the Church are much interested in the members of the Church understanding the Bible on its own terms.”

    danithew said: “we do place an awful lot of emphasis on the importance of scripture study and religious education.”

    The funny thing is, I think they’re both right. I sometimes find this kind of puzzling. It seems to me that the type of scripture study that is usually modelled for us by leaders and in the curriculum is quite superficial. On the other hand, we are definitely encouraged to read the scriptures a lot. I guess for most people see reading the scriptures as more of a devotional activity than a scholarly one. Maybe that’s why so few of us learn any greek.

  64. “[Paul] couldn’t have believed in the Christian doctrine of Trinity because it didn’t exist yet. Trinity was the result of Council of Nicea (and later Chalcedon) in the 3rd and 4th centuries C.E.”

    Yes, it’s too bad that the early church didn’t have access to scriptures like Mosiah 15, or maybe they could have settled on the doctrine of the trinity much more quickly. :-).

  65. DKL … didn’t studying koine Greek have anything to do with you gaining the in-depth perspectives of the New Testament (as it really is) that you now possess?

  66. danithew, that’s a good question. I really don’t know. Except for some obvious things that are derivative from other people’s work or opinions, it’s hard for me to determine where my knowledge of the Bible comes directly from the Bible or from secondary sources.

    Of course, it’s an open question whether I have an in-depth perspective at all. But I do know that one must study Greek for a long time before he understands the English rendition in terms of the Greek and not vice versa.

  67. Rosalynde says:

    DKL wrote: “I’ve read more than half the plays of Shakespeare, and I’m quite comfortable with Elizabethan and Jacobean English.”

    The depth and breadth of the man’s reading is, as usual, awe-inspiring.

  68. In terms of the language-learning, I’d rather see us teaching kids second languages rather than Hebrew or Greek. The point about the scriptures is well-taken, but I think that both missionary work and secular education would benefit from early study of language.

    I think it would be amazing if we could send more kids into the mission field with a really strong background in a language.

    Way off topic, I know, but worth thinking about, I think.

  69. I’ve put up a related follow-up here.

  70. Learning the original languages is helpful, but like DKL said, if the effort isn’t put into it, it’s fruitless. Before I started graduate school in biblical studies, I had dabbled in some Hebrew here and there, but I was very, very naive about how to use it and what was going on on the syntactical level. With that said, teaching our youth in high school LDS seminaries the original languages would be, as DKL said, produce a very low R.O.I. (return on investment). They would get wrapped up in the language and not its message. So it’s fine line we walk when we endeavor to learn the originals — you risk losing the meaning of a passage in order to learn the meaning or semantic nuance of an individual word or word usage. Then again, learning the originals, for me personally, has done something wonderful — it’s forced me to slow down. I write about 4 exegesis papers per semester, and I find that 15 pages of analysis for 3 verses of scripture (in the OT) is the norm. That’s 5 pages per verse. The NT is a bit less, because for me, Greek words, for the most part, tell their own tale just in their inflection/declension (case endings being the most helpful). In the NT, you just read the story, so to speak. You can’t do that in books like Ezekiel, Isaiah, Leviticus, etc. You gotta know some semantics for those books.

    My point is this–good scholars generally have a firm handle on the languages of the text, but they sometimes get lost in the text. One who knows the scripture well in his/her own idiom generally is better with the application of scripture, rather than its interpretation. Both I feel are eventually necessary, but for our youth, application is most important, IMO.

    And for my own part, the languages haven’t given me any spectacular insights into scripture like most people expect. The “wow” stuff I’ve picked up is usually from historians, oddly enough. Not grammarians.

  71. Rosalynde: The depth and breadth of the man’s reading is, as usual, awe-inspiring.

    That’s a very kind thing to say. Thank you.

  72. Go Julie! (#9) Yes, the illusion that we understand it plainly, just like that, is the most important thing to avoid of all.

    Plus, the KJV is cross-training for reading the Book of Mormon. Those of us who are weak on language need the practice.

    Hello! As though the main problem with reading comprehension for members of the church were grammar! Grammar is TRIVIAL (literally). Life is more than bread, and the scriptures are more than grammar.

    So far as translations contribute to comprehension, if you want better comprehension, don’t substitute one for another. Make people use two. Then they will understand what they are really doing! All the more reason to keep the KJV, to motivate people to consult multiple translations.

  73. Gilgamesh says:

    I like the KJV, but there are definitely nice “other” bibles out there. Do a comparison of Psalm 56 in the KJV with the NRSV. The KJV is confusing and somewhat labor inducing, whereas the NRSV version is beautiful and inspiring. The same goes the otherway around with the 23rd Psalm. Nothing beats the KJV “yea though I walk through the shadow of death.”

  74. Rosalynde says:

    Aww, you know I adore you, DKL!

  75. <BLUSH>

  76. get a room

  77. Bryce, if I weren’t more generally acquainted with your writing, I’d just take that to be a failed attempt to be clever. Unfortunately, it’s just one more contribution to your body of vapid comments that are altogether lacking in insight or originality.

  78. Actually, Bryce, though you’re comment above is cliche, it doesn’t warrant the broader insult that I offered as a response. I apologize.

  79. c’mon, dkl, an apology? You’re losing your edge, man.

  80. Bryce, I’ve already posted a very partial list of apologies that I’ve made in the past on The Banner of Heaven. From the comments that people make about what I say and the responses I get to my arguments, it is quickly becoming evident that very few people actually read what I write in the bloggernacle.

  81. Scene 7

    GOD: Arthur! Arthur, King of the Britons! Oh, don’t grovel! If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s people groveling.
    ARTHUR: Sorry–
    GOD: And don’t apologize. Every time I try to talk to someone it’s “sorry this” and “forgive me that” and “I’m not worthy”. What are you doing now!?
    ARTHUR: I’m averting my eyes, oh Lord.
    GOD: Well, don’t. It’s like those miserable Psalms — they’re so depressing. Now knock it off!
    ARTHUR: Yes, Lord.

  82. Of course the Psalms are much more depressing in the KJV than in other less faulty and modern English translations of the Bible …

  83. danithew, don’t you know that scene is faulty? You see, “nobody can see God face to face and live…” :)

    I had a OT professor (evangelical) once say that Yahweh’s bark is louder than his bite, and after that said “show me one place in the Bible where someone dies for seeing God. It doesn’t exist.” Gotta love it.

  84. David J., that is an interesting idea that Yahweh’s bark is louder than his bite. I had never thought about that possibility too much. I’m immediately reminded of what the Lord God said to Adam “in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (speaking of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil). I think in Hebrew this is even more emphatic. It says “a death you shall die” (mot tamut). The passage basically is saying that on the very same day that he eats he would certainly die.

    But that is not what happens.

    Here’s a link where a person can see the English-Hebrew of Genesis 2:17 side-by-side.

    Of course, if a person sees God and dies as a result, he or she is not going to be around to write about it.

  85. As with the BoM, I believe that KJV is very beautiful; however, I personally find it very cumbersome to muddle through when I am involved in serious study. Maybey one of the best ways for the Saints to accept the “new” language changes would be to accurately upgrade the Jacobean speech from the BoM & use it along side the NIV (by the way – which is a version that has been directly translated from original Greek & Hebrew) and ironically, is the closest in accuracy to the KJV.

    It sure would be nice to have an option, thats all I’m saying. For those who love the “thee’s & thou’s” Let them keep KJV, but for those of us who would prefer a more readable text…let’s get a modern quad. What would it hurt?

  86. Robert Durtschi says:

    I was asked why we still used the “old fashioned” KJV while serving as a stake missionary at a soup kitchen. I did a bit of research afterward and came across J. Rueben Clark’s statement which was addressed in the June 1987 Ensign
    “I Have a Question:

    J. Reuben Clark examined revisionism in the New Testament, consulting the 1885 Revised Version of the KJV and the 1952 RSV. His conclusion was that “the effect of the position of the Extreme Textualists as set forth in their Revisions of the Bible, is to weaken, if not destroy the Messiahship of Jesus. Incidents recorded in the King James Version have been omitted from the Revised Version; substantial parts of whole chapters … have been omitted; doctrines and teachings have been changed; doubts have been cast on fundamental expressions declaring the divinity … of Jesus the Christ; faith-destroying questions have been raised by marginal notes and by the text itself; the personality of Jesus in its Christian concept has, in effect, been challenged.”

    (J. Reuben Clark, Jr., “Why The King James Version” pp. 6–7.)

    I have tried the “living bible” and the NIV versions and do appreciate the easier english. However It would be a good idea to read them in parallel with the KJV to see what you are missing.

    On a related note. My institute teacher suggested reading the 8 part series: “How the Bible Came to Be” Ensign Jan 1982 – Sept 1982
    I’ve done so and was quite impressed. It’s available at lds.org


  1. […] So, the KJV isn’t the best translation one could use (see Ronan’s post here). Although it’s very good, the authors of the KJV often took liberties in translation where perhaps they should not (Isa. 26:19, anyone?). I imagine this is OK, given that much of what we know of the ancient languages today may not have been known back in the late 1500s to early 1600s. They did the best they could given what they knew at the time. […]

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