My mother was a staunch supporter of the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. Even though she realized that scholars translated it under the authorization of King James I of England (who was also King James VI of Scotland!), she persisted in saying, “If it was good enough for King James, it’s good enough for me.”
But I love the newer versions with more modern language. It seems to relate better to me and my circumstances without having to wonder what some obsolete word or expression means.
Have you ever read a newer Bible version, such as the New International Version (NIV) or the New Century Version (NCV), and thought, “That just doesn’t give the idea like the old King James Version did?”
I have. Recently, I read Matthew 26:75 in the New Century Version. It said that after Peter heard the rooster crow, he “went outside and cried painfully.” At least the NIV translators had enough sensitivity to keep “wept bitterly.”
In 2 Samuel 12:7, when Nathan confronted David, the NIV translation, “You are the man!” just doesn’t have the same sting as the KJV, “Thou art the man!” Either way, David was instantly convicted of his sin, but I prefer the KJV.
I know one reason I see them this way is from hearing my mother tell us these stories when we were children. She put such drama into, “Thou art the man!” and “And if I perish, I perish!” (Esther 4:16) that I can’t imagine the story with any other wording. The New Century Version’s “If I must die, I must die,” says the same thing but lacks the drama of the KJV.
Occasionally, a different translation can take the familiar and make it more direct and powerful, such as The Great Commission in The Message: “Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: ‘God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18-20.)
Psalm 23, John 3:16, Genesis 1:1, Acts 2:38 are classics that stay basically the same without the “thees” and “thous.” I think through this we can see that most changes in translations don’t change the meaning as much as they change how we see it from our own perspective. We are fortunate to live in an era when so many different groups have translated the Bible into English. And we have many parallel Bibles where we can compare translations without going back and forth between large, unwieldy books.
Even more fortunate for the world is that the Bible continues to be translated into other languages. At last count, the entire Bible has been translated into 550 languages. (And yet there are over 1800 more to go.) The New Testament has been translated into more than 1300 languages. From the King James Version to The Message to Swahili versions, people are able to read the powerful word of God. How simple now for us to take the gospel into the whole world!