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.
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… Read more »
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… Read more »