Monday, August 29, 2011

Practical Reflections Regarding the KJV

This post begins a series responding to a short piece written by Joel Beeke a few years ago. If he wrote it a few years ago, why respond now? First, I only recently became aware of Beeke’s piece. Second, this year is the 400th anniversary of the publication of the KJV. Third, there have been a number of pieces published in the popular press regarding the KJV and its qualities.

Beeke’s piece itself may be read here:

Who is Joel Beeke, and why take him on? For those who do not know, Joel Beeke is the president of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and pastor of Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is well-known in conservative Reformed circles and is a regular speaker at Bible and theology conferences. He is also not a “KJV-only” radical, as that phrase is typically used. The reasons for taking him on are two-fold. First, he is well-known and well-respected in our circles. Second, while I agree with some of what he says in this piece, there seem to me to be some cultural and sociological issues, in addition to theological issues, that Beeke (and others who hold a position like his) either does not recognize or does not care to address, that affect the selection of a Bible translation not only for personal study but for public worship.

My series of posts will simply respond sequentially to Beeke’s points.

His first point is that the KJV is “The Standard Text of the English Bible.” Under this heading he makes three points. First, the quality of a translation can only be known by using it over time. This is true. In this regard, the KJV certainly is well-tested over time. Other currently popular translations cannot make the same claim. The NIV New Testament first appeared in the 1970s, with the whole Bible copyrighted in 1984. The New American Standard Bible dates to 1977, with a major revision dating to 1995. The New King James Version appeared in 1982. The English Standard Version appeared in 2001. The Holman Christian Standard Bible New Testament appeared in 1999, with the whole Bible making its appearance in 2003. The New Revised Standard Version was published in 1989. The New Living Translation was first published in 1996, with a significant re-edited version appearing in 2004. In other words, the oldest of these Bible is still less than half a century old, with the newest being less than a decade old. The qualities of these Bible are still, in some sense, under review.

Second, the KJV has outlasted many versions that were intended to replace it. This is also true. The American Standard Version (1901) is in print, but is regularly used by a very small number of people. The Revised Standard Version (1952/1971) is still available in a handful of editions, but it has been replaced by the New RSV. Other versions produced in the twentieth century, such as Moffatt’s translation and the Smith-Goodspeed translation, were never widely used. Even more popular versions such as Phillips’ New Testament and the Good News Bible have faded with time. Other versions, such as the Contemporary English Version and the New Century Version seem never to have really caught on. You can regularly find them on the remainder tables at secular bookstores.

Third, Beeke makes the point that the KJV is the standard to which all other versions are compared. While this was at one time the case, I don’t think it is any more. But that is only because Bible publishers have recognized that they really don’t get any traction by directly attacking the KJV. Instead, they will attack it indirectly by touting such things as the readability of their version, or how easy it is to understand.

The next post will deal with Beeke’s second point.