Since the KJV Bible has stood the test of time for 400 years, someone might reasonably ask the question: Why would anyone need to use or read another translation of the Bible? The answer to that question is found in the type of Greek in which the New Testament was written in. God almighty chose to give us, through the Holy Spirit, the New Testament in Koine Greek. Merriam-Webster defines Koine as: “the Greek language commonly spoken and written in eastern Mediterranean countries in the Hellenistic and Roman periods.” The key word in that entire definition is ‘common.’ Common refers to the language that the common person speaks. For us this is everyday ordinary English. The fact is the KJV Bible is no longer ‘common’ English—it was when it was written, but the last revision was made in 1769, which is over 240 years ago. Some would argue that 1769 was not a significant revision, and if that is the case, takes the significant revision back nearly 400 years to the 1620s. The English language has changed tremendously since 1611. We simply do not talk in the way the KJV Bible is written. To say such a thing is not a criticism of the Bible. Instead, it is an acknowledgement of the truth. The English in the KJV is beautiful, especially in the wisdom and poetry books, like Psalm 23. But that same beauty doesn’t always move so easily over to the law and prophets and to the gospels and epistles. Here is just one example from Luke 6:38.
Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.
Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
The first verse you read was from the KJV, and the second verse was from the ESV. Now, be as objective as you can. Suppose you were reading that text for the very first time: Which rendering, the KJV or ESV, provides you with the greater understanding or comprehension of the message from Christ with a single reading? Here is another example:
For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries: (1 Peter 4:19)
For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.
I think if you are willing to be objective, you will agree that the ESV rendering provides the reader the clearest understanding of the text. In the first example, the words ‘bosom, mete, withal’ create an awkwardness in the reading. This is not to say that they are incorrect words, but they are awkward, and awkward gets in the way of understanding the text. In the second example, the modern English provides the reader a clearer understanding of the sins that Peter is describing. Since the avoidance of these sins is the point of the verse, I believe we want our students and new converts reading a translation that will give them the greatest understanding of the message of the text. While the KJV is a great translation, the words used in the verse are not used today, but the words in the ESV would be readily understood by a 17 year old or a 23 year old—which is the goal. Comprehension of the text is the goal.
To those who have been reading the KJV all of your lives, I fully understand that you can’t relate to the KJV English being hard to understand. Your individual familiarity with the KJV interferes with your ability to put yourself in the shoes of someone who is reading the Bible for the very first time. Since understanding the message of the Bible is of utmost importance, we must recognize that being willing to allow others to read from another good literal ‘word for word’ translation in modern English could be the most important factor in growing as a disciple of Christ. Christ spoke in the language that the common man understood. Formal equivalencies like the NKJV, ESV, and the NASB put His words in modern English with the least amount of interpretative interjections into the text making them ideal choices for students and new Christians.
Finally, can you remember the last course you took in college or high school? Were the text books in modern English? Do you remember your history books? Were your history books written in Elizabethan English or modern English? They were written in modern English and the reason is the goal of the text book was to teach you history, not Elizabethan English. The author wrote in the language of his intended reader, so he or she would have the greatest comprehension of the information in the textbook. The same is true for Paul. He wrote in Koine Greek, so his reader would have the greatest comprehension of his message. Paul is dead and he wrote in Greek. Today, we translate his words and others into English, and more specifically into modern English, so readers in the year 2014 can understand the words of Moses, David, Isaiah, Jesus, Matthew, Mark, Luke, Paul and others written thousands of years ago. Increasing comprehension is why we use other translations. Our loyalty should never be to a particular translation, but to the discipleship of as many souls God would give us. Discipleship always begins with personal application of the truth of the Word of God. And so I close by asking: How can a new disciple in Christ apply something from the Bible if they don’t understand what they are reading?