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Gracie Gibson views what is described as the world's largest Bible. The King James Bible measures 43.5 inches tall by 98 inches wide. It is housed at the Abilene Christian University library in Texas. – PHOTO BY GRANT RAMPY

At 400th anniversary of KJV, thou shalt read … NIV?

Happy birthday, KJV.
Thy legacy endureth, but thy popularity waneth.
With a slew of scholarly conferences and new history books helping celebrate, the King James Version of the Bible — the English translation completed in 1611 — marks its 400th anniversary in 2011.
But for most members of Churches of Christ, modern translations such as the New International Version, the New American Standard Version and even the New King James Version have replaced the once-dominant KJV, a Christian Chronicle survey revealed.
“I had a very difficult time understanding the KJV with its old style of English, so I switched to one where I could understand better God’s message to man,” said John Lucas, a member of the Ankeny Church of Christ in Iowa.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” — Psalm 23:4

Like many fellow Christians, Dawn Love grew up on “thees” and “thous.”
As a child, she read and memorized the KJV. Even today, Love said, she finds herself reciting certain Scriptures in the King James language. For her Bible reading and study, however, she prefers the NIV.
And she has plenty of company.
The NIV — introduced in the 1970s — ranks as the most-popular Bible translation among members of Churches of Christ, the Chronicle survey found.
The NIV “has been translated from the original Greek and Hebrew texts, and it is much easier to understand,” said Love, who worships with the East High Street Church of Christ in Springfield, Ohio.
At the Caldwell Church of Christ in Idaho, most use the NIV, minister Jay Hawkins said.
“It’s so common that many people use it just to be reading what most others are reading,” said Hawkins, who prefers the New Revised Standard Version, released in 1989.
Likewise, the Newark Church of Christ in Delaware generally uses the NIV, minister Steve Mahoney said.
“We have a few KJV people, but I try to encourage the NIV for public reading unless the person is highly proficient at reading the KJV. It’s just too hard for the younger generation to follow,” Mahoney said.
“I find that the teens in our church mostly like ‘The Message,’” he added. “Several of our younger members read their Bibles on their iPhones or other devices.”

“After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” — Matthew 6:9-10

In the survey, 41.5 percent of the 1,100-plus respondents gave the NIV as their preferred Bible.
The New American Standard Version came in second (17.1 percent), followed by the New King James Version (10.3 percent) and the English Standard Version (9.5 percent). The original King James Version ranked fifth (5.8 percent).
“Such diversity in terms of which Bible translations are being read among the Churches of Christ is probably a good thing as every translation has its strengths and weaknesses,” said K. Rex Butts, minister of the Randolph Church of Christ in New Jersey. “It is also good to be part of a fellowship that grants the freedom to everyone to read from the Bible version of their preference.”
At the Bear Valley Church of Christ in Denver, the 1995 New American Standard Version is the Bible placed in pews and the translation read by most members, minister Neal Pollard said.
“In my preaching, I quote most often from KJV and NASB (New American Standard Bible),” Pollard said. “I grew up reading and using the KJV. I never had the difficulty reading and comprehending the KJV that you so often hear … in complaints about it.”
Jay Kelley, minister of the Austin Street Church of Christ in Levelland, Texas, does not dispute the NIV’s popularity.
Still, he prefers the KJV, seeing it as a more accurate translation than the NIV.
“It is the Bible I carry and read regularly, although I use other translations,” Kelley said of the KJV. “Most of my writing is done using the NIV because that is what most folks read.”

“And now, why tarriest thou? Arise and be baptized, washing away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” Acts 22:16

At the 19th-century beginning of the Restoration Movement, with no viable alternative on the American scene, the King James Version was “completely dominant,” according to the Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement.
In the 1800s and 1900s, Restoration church leaders supported developing new English translations. They insisted that the availability of better text materials, advances in the knowledge of the Greek language and changes in English since 1611 made revisions imperative, scholar Jack Lewis wrote in the Stone-Campbell encyclopedia.
The American Standard Version, seen as a more literal and accurate translation than the KJV, gained prominence among Churches of Christ after its release in 1901, said Cecil May, dean of the Bible college at Faulkner University in Montgomery, Ala.
In the mid-20th century, a few prominent church leaders championed the use of the KJV and criticized modern translations, said Lewis, professor of Bible emeritus at Harding University Graduate School of Religion in Memphis, Tenn.
“The Stone-Campbell Movement has never had a unified position on Bible versions,” wrote Lewis, who helped with the NIV translation. “For most of the Movement’s history the issue of what translation to use has not been a test of fellowship.”
Growing up in black churches, “KJV was the king and anything other than that was heresy,” said Loventrice Farrow, a member of the Naperville Church of Christ in Illinois.
“I believed that the KJV came directly from the mouth of God, and as a child, I thought that King James was a biblical character,” Farrow said.
Most black congregations still prefer the KJV, said James A. Maxwell, minister of the Holgate Church of Christ in Seattle.
“But I have seen in recent years the NKJV and the NIV become a favorite of many 18 and up, especially the NIV,” said Maxwell, a graduate of Southwestern Christian College in Terrell, Texas. “As we have younger men stepping up to serve, most of them are now using the NIV.”

“Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21

As an elementary student in Honolulu, Roger Woods studied the KJV. Then a Sunday school teacher introduced him to an easy-to-read translation dubbed “Good News for Modern Man.”
“I loved that I could read it without a dictionary,” said Woods, minister of the Walled Lake Church of Christ in Michigan. “When we moved from Hawaii, I deliberately left my KJV hidden in the church building.
“Later, as a teen in Virginia, I used the Revised Standard and early versions of the NIV New Testament. Today, I am alarmed at the commercialization of Bible translations but still support the translation of the Bible fresh for each generation.”
For decades, Katherine Cooper, whose husband, Dan, preaches for the Pitman Church of Christ in Sewell, N.J., has relied on the New American Standard Version — and before that, the American Standard Version. She’s transitioning to the English Standard Version.
Yet, Cooper said, “When I try to quote a Scripture, it still comes out in the King James!”

English Bible translations

In a random survey by The Christian Chronicle,
more than 1,100 readers responded to this question:
“What Bible version do you prefer to read?”

New International Version: 41.5 percent
New American Standard Version: 17.1 percent
New King James Version: 10.3 percent
English Standard Version: 9.5 percent
King James Version: 5.8 percent
Revised Standard/New Revised Standard Version: 4.8 percent
New Living Translation: 3.6 percent
Today’s New International Version: 2.3 percent
‘The Message’: 2.2 percent
Other: 2.2 percent
Holman Christian Standard Bible: 0.5 percent
Contemporary English Version: 0.4 percent
Common English Bible: 0.1 percent
New American Bible: 0.1 percent

  • Feedback
    I am surprised that more was not said about multi-version Bibles. I have found it useful in Bible study to read several versions from the KJV and the NASV to even the Message. When they all seem to be saying the same thing I can feel confidence that I understand what God wanted me to understand from the original writing. When there are differences I carefully study to understand why. Usually I find that all versions actually agree but they chose to use a different way to say it. But sometimes the differences are caused by the Greek text chosen or doctrinal interpretation. I am confident that using any legitimate version a person can receive the Gospel and understand the plan of salvation. Isn’t that what matters?
    Bob Gowens
    First Colony Church of Christ
    Misouri City, TX
    April, 1 2011

    All translations have their strengths and weaknesses, even the KJV. However, what is important is to study from the Bible translations we have and put into practice what we have learnt. People outside the church will not judge us according to what translation we use, but whether or not we have translated God’s word into our lives.
    Stephen Woodcock
    Loughborough Church of Christ
    Loughborough, Leicestershire
    England, UK
    March, 7 2011

    In can understand some folks not liking the KJV due to its quaint English. They have though the NKJV.
    Those who hold to modern versions by implication have to hold to the position the words of the Lord in Mark 16:15,16 should not be in the Bible. On the other hand, the Bible of the ancient church, the Waldensians, Lollards, Tyndale, King James and the later New King James has a wonderful heritage reflecting the original Greek autographs.
    Keith Sisman
    Keith Sisman
    Cambridge City
    Cambridge, Cambridgeshire
    March, 6 2011

    After years of study, I agree with O’Hearn and Lewis about the accuracy of the ASV. I was quite surprised to discover what a commentary the NTL and The Message are. They do not qualify as a translation. The NRSV is supposed to be quite dependable, but I’ve not finished my study of it yet. I vote for the 1901 ASV!
    James R. Cooke
    Altamesa Church of Christ
    Fort Worth, TX
    U. S. A.
    March, 4 2011

    I’m wondering how many blacks were polled since the KJV is the overwhelming choice of black churches, yet it only ranked 5.8 percent in the poll.
    Victor Knowles
    Mt. Hope Church
    Joplin, MO
    March, 4 2011

    Which version is the inerrant Word of God or are all of them inerrant.
    John Jenkins
    Great Smoky Mountains Church of Christ, Pigeon Forge, TN
    Gatlinburg, TN
    March, 4 2011

    Brother Ivie, You are certainly entitled to your opinion. But everyone associated with The Christian Chronicle is a committed Christian with the deepest respect for God’s word.
    Bobby Ross Jr.
    The Christian Chronicle
    Oklahoma City, OK
    March, 4 2011

    Since the “Christian Chronicle” is published by those who do not respect God’s word, it is understandable that most of its readers would select some modern perversion instead of a reliable translation.
    Charles Ivie
    New Testament church
    Tatum, NM
    March, 4 2011

    I came across the New Living Translation a few years ago. The way it translates the text so that it reads logically has impressed me. The meaning of a passage is clear and it helps the understanding of the message being revealed.
    At the end of the day, the translation is irrelevant providing the message is true. After all, the King James Version is full of difficulties and errors. But the language is beautiful to the ear, though I would never use it in a sermon or class situation.
    Pete Hodge
    Skelmersdale, Lancashire
    March, 4 2011

    The Easy-to-Read Version is really clear and accurate. I know many people in the Churches of Christ who love this version. You can get FREE Bible downloads at www.wbtc.org And, when you buy Bibles from them, it helps pay for them to send foreign-language Bibles to poor people around the world.
    Chaney Rader
    Bear Creek
    Fort Worth, Texas
    March, 1 2011

    In regard to an earlier post, the NIV has not necessarily mistranslated the Greek word “monogenes” in relation to Jesus being God’s one and only Son. In Hebrews 11:17, Isaac is referred to as Abraham’s “monogene” son. It is obvious that Abraham had several other sons by Hagar and Keturah. Therefore, “monogenes” must have a broader meaning than “only born.” Isaac clearly was the only son of promise. We believe Jesus is God’s only, unique, and divine Son based on the entirety of the gospel message, not based on one possible meaning of a Greek word. The term “only begotten” owes more to the Latin “unigenitus” than the Greek “monogenes”.
    Paul Smith
    Aztec Church of Christ
    Aztec, New Mexico
    March, 1 2011

    I’m not surprised. I’m not a big fan of the NIV, though. I think the ESV is much better translation. I’ve really been impressed with this version. While it’s a newer version, I think it will start to catch on in popularity.
    Frank Schipani
    Walled Lake Church of Christ
    White Lake, Michigan
    March, 1 2011

    This should help Christians pick an accurate version.
    Don Gartman
    South Road Church of Christ in Farmington, CT
    Wolcott, Connecticut
    March, 1 2011

    For a while I preferred the NIV, but now I am seeing more and more doctrinal faults with it, or basic mistranslations. (For example, the reference to “one and only Son” where the Greek is clearly “only born.”) I use KJV in my writing because it is public domain in the US. The American Standard Version continues to be the most accurate translation, although not the easiest to read. I find the Message nearly impossible to read in places (John 1), and it includes some questionable doctrine, in those places where it is a paraphrase.
    Tim O’Hearn
    Riverside church of Christ
    Albuquerque, NM
    March, 1 2011

    I prefer the 1901 American Standard Version. I believe it to be some of the most accurately translated. My second choice would be the New King James Version.
    Teresa Lewis
    Mannford, OK
    March, 1 2011

Filed under: God's Story

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