I have recently found myself reading the Authorized Version (a.k.a. the King James Version) as my go-to Bible for my devotions. It was a long journey there. I grew up on a translation sponsored by a delegation of evangelical Christians. But I eventually become conscious of the evangelical bias in the translation — to the point that it became a distraction. When I became an Episcopalian, I made my transition to the NRSV. Surely this was more scholarly and therefore “neutral.” But then over time I began to spot its “liberal” bias.

I don’t have anything against evangelicals or liberals. I find myself happily in their company much of the time. I just do not like the cultural battle between the two, and I want to “jump off the seesaw.” I found reading translations that reminded me of the polemic between the two sides simply too distracting.

What it comes down to is that I am uninterested in having my Bible theologically interpreted for me in advance. Any translation is a theological undertaking — all the more so when that fact is denied. But what I have found in discovering the Authorized Version is that, because it was translated prior to modernity and the Enlightenment, it is a pre-critical translation (in a particular sense). It predates the divide between liberal and evangelical appropriations of, or reactions to, that critical turn.

To say the Authorized Version is pre-critical is not to say that it lacks rigor, or is uninformed or thoughtless; it most certainly is not. It means that it is not obsessed with the theological filtering and polemical side-taking that now characterizes biblical “criticism.”


I am not claiming the Authorized Version has no “agenda.” It most certainly has one: to provide an appropriate translation “appointed to be read in churches” in England. The Authorized Version represents an agenda with which I am, as an Episcopalian and an Anglican, becoming increasingly more comfortable.

One final note: I do not recommend the Authorized Version for public proclamation of the Word or for most classroom teaching, except in rare cases. I am talking only about my devotions. That said, if this post has piqued your interest I highly recommend the New Cambridge Paragraph Bible. It is the Authorized Version, but printed in a single column. The sentences are grouped into meaningful paragraphs (apparently the wishes of the original translators), rather than indented arbitrarily by the lately added “verses.” All of the spellings have been completely updated to modern (British) standards. It is amazing how readable the text becomes when those stumbling blocks are removed. It is far easier to read than the Bard. And I feel I am in touch with my English-language and Anglican heritage.

About The Author

The Rev. Dr. Nathan Jennings is the J. Milton Richardson associate professor of liturgics and Anglican studies at Seminary of the Southwest.

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2 Responses

  1. Dane E Boston

    Hear hear! I too have found myself turning to the AV for personal use and study more and more. I first began to do so when I was studying Hebrew. The KJV was the perfect English text for checking my (usually very poor) translation work because it cleaves so closely to the word order and idiomatic phrases of the original. It’s strange by design, and that strangeness gives a flavor of the Hebrew and Greek behind it.

    I’ve encountered some pretty stiff resistance to using the AV among Episcopalians, which is really quite sad. It is the common heritage of all anglophones, but especially of Anglican Christians. Why we should wash our hands of it and give it over to “KJV-only” denominational bodies is beyond me.

    But why recommend the AV not be used for public proclamation “except in rare cases”? You mention that it is easier than Shakespeare. I agree. But I’d also say that, like Shakespeare, the KJV was meant to be heard. And like Shakespeare, it is quite easily understood by most people when it is declaimed well. A good reading out of the AV is better–more beautiful, more sonorous, more solemn–than a good reading out of the NRSV. A bad reading is a bad reading, no matter the version.

    You mention the excellent New Cambridge Paragraph Bible. I want to put in a plug for another fine edition of the King James text. The Washburn College Bible offers a visually striking and eminently readable format. Each line is set out by phrases (or breaths). This makes it very easy to read aloud, and very easy to understand when used alone. I’m not sure whether it’s still in print, but used copies are readily available online.

    Thanks for a great post! “The grass withereth, and the flower fadeth, but the word of our God shall stand forever.”

  2. Jesse Billett

    This is a great encouragement to read. My shelves sag with many editions and translations of the Bible, in several languages, along with ancient and modern commentaries. But for the Daily Office, for meditative reading, for quick “look-it-up” reference, and even when quoting the Bible in my lectures, I use the Authorized Version. It is “the Bible in English” as no other version can ever be. (I had a fruitful conversation on this subject at Bosco Peters’s “Liturgy” blog a while ago, if you’re interested: http://liturgy.co.nz/resources-for-31st-ordinary-sunday#comments)

    I would even endorse the AV for public liturgy, when skilled and experienced lectors are available. The problem of comprehension is not ultimately a matter of translation but of familiarity with Christianity itself. So said William Temple, speaking of the classical Prayer Book:

    “There is often complaint that the Prayer Book services are too difficult in their language. It is not so much the language that is difficult as the ideas which it expresses, the Christian conceptions which are not understood even by many Christians and which are altogether foreign to those outside.” (A Challenge to the Church [1916], p. 6)

    Let me add my own endorsement of David Norton’s NCPB. Its clear layout, its beautiful typography, and its modernization of spelling and punctation (but not of vocabulary or grammar) all combine to transform the experience of reading this translation. Norton’s companion monograph, “A Textual History of the King James Bible,” is illuminating and gives the justification for several apparent “changes” in his edition that are in fact restorations of what the 1611 translators intended. It turns out that in some places where modern critics think the translators simply erred, they were in fact deliberately favouring minority readings in the Hebrew and Greek sources, or the evidence of ancient versions (e.g. the Targumim).

    Thank you, Dane, for alerting us to the existence of the Washburn College Bible. It looks excellent. If it had included the Apocrypha, it would have made an ideal year-round lectern bible. Perhaps some one will make good that deficiency some day?


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