Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible. By Mark Ward. Lexham Press: WA, 2018. Kindle Edition.
The sole case against the regular use of the King James Version is its vernacular. Dr. Ward correctly identifies the AV’s English to be “early modern English.” What is not mentioned however is that the KJV as an accurate translation of the original languages, is not merely standardized English but also Biblical English. The KJV reader is exposed to a meticulous reflection of the Hebrew/Aramaic and the Greek. The KJV Hebraisms and syntax scrupulously exhibit the originals. Idiomatic expressions and certain terminologies are at times mistaken for archaisms. Indeed, there are words that are archaic, but none are unintelligible. The KJV pushes the English toward the original languages. A good solution is one that is unfortunately discounted by Dr. Ward in his introductory diagnostic question: “So do we…teach people to read it? No.”
If much of English-speaking Christianity has sent the King James Version to that part of the forest where trees fall with no one there to hear them, it is owing to both ignorance (for many) and sedition (on the part of unbelieving textual criticism and religious liberalism). Thankfully, the KJV is not the treasure of commercialism, but rather the Lord’s churches. Yes, generally speaking, no one misses the 1537 Matthew’s Bible, nor the Geneva Bible, but this is because the current iteration of a faithful English Bible points exclusively to the King James Version. Dr. Ward highlights five points that readers will lose if they stop using the KJV. “Intergenerational ties to the Body of Christ” reflects an ecclesiology not shared by this reviewer however to contextualize his first point a KJV-link is appreciated. To view the KJV as part of a rich heritage to hand down is commendable. Part of the beauty of the King James Version is that it is a faithful translation which ought to be handed down to subsequent generations until such a time as another faithful English translation would iterate differently. This occasion is perhaps possible, but most likely not probable. Dr. Ward correctly fears allowing traditions to set aside the Word of God. While this is a valid concern, there is nothing by way of tradition about the King James Version that stands to set aside the Word of God. Simply put, the traditions which surround the AV are good ones. Dr. Ward puts forward another healthy, diagnostic question: “What do we do with the KJV in the twenty-first century?” A healthy response: study it.
Dr. Ward identifies the reader’s understanding as the weighty reason for giving up on the KJV. His solution though is gratuitous. If the problem is the reader’s understanding, then the task is to elevate the reader’s understanding. In Acts 8 where the Ethiopian lacked understanding, Philip did not offer to change the text but rather explained it. A citizen’s lack of understanding the U.S. Constitution is no reason to call for its amendment. To change the KJV because of the reader’s lack of understanding is to introduce a flood of evil. Furthermore, to amend a classic eliminates it from being one (regardless of whatever classic piece it may be).
In Chapters 2-3, Dr. Ward presents a very good point and concern. “It is not impossible that Bible readers are running their eyes past words that simply don’t register.” In other words, how would a reader know to look up a word or words if he assumes he understands it or if he is unaware, perhaps even operating on a false assumption (Mark calls these words “false friends”). Whatever else the solution may be, replacing the text is certainly not the answer. The need is for guidance not gerrymandering the text. Part of the problem was exacerbated by using a modern dictionary when studying an older text. This is something that Dr. Ward points out. An alternative to the peerless OED is the free online tool “Online Etymology Dictionary” (www.etymonline.com) – Unicorn, halt, commendeth, convenient, wait, & remove (including more false friends) are adequately explained relatively free. This reviewer would like to add “meet” (as in Gen. 2:18) in the “false friends” category. Hebrew poetry and the choice of the KJV translators to render it into prose versus an English poetic equivalent is not without its reasons. Take for instance, Bible Presbyterian Church, Senior Pastor Christian Spencer's lecture on the KJV poetry at a Dean Burgon Society meeting accessible on sermonaudio.com. Readability has always been a concern, but solutions are never beyond reach.
In Chapter 4, Dr. Ward properly qualifies some distinctions within the “KJV-only” camp and more could easily be said but this is not the essence of his book. Modern translations also contain their share of difficult words. One solution is Dr. Waite’s Defined KJB. TBS’ KJV Westminster Reference edition seems beautiful and helpful. Norton’s KJB (the New Cambridge Paragraph Bible, 2005) returns the current KJV to the less than accurate 1611 edition and for that reason it is not helpful (besides removing the italicized words, and the retention of the Apocrypha). Mr. Dave Olson, faculty member at Fairhaven Baptist College, wrote a 78-page booklet that helps: “Understanding the King James Bible.” Hopefully, a future influx of good KJV study Bibles, editions, and books will help solve much of Dr. Ward’s legitimate concerns.
In Chapter 5, Dr. Ward weaponizes the KJV’s vernacular against itself. His syllogism is doubtful (even after reading 5 chapters of good points and observations) in point number 2 “the KJV is not in our language.” If the KJV is not written in English, what language is it written in? Dr. Ward calls for an update of the KJV. It would be better to call for a study of it. The “fear” of revising the KJV is not unfounded. How many attempts have been made only to leave Christendom with a “finished” product that is less accurate to the originals and less enduring. Take the word charity, for instance. Charity could be rendered love in 1 Corinthians 13 but in doing that, one loses the exact definition of a love that is heightened (or sacrificial) to say nothing of its etymological link to a Christian context. The world can legitimately say that Christianity has no settled text. Certainly, “make a good one better” but since the 1885 Revised Version and onward, this remains to be seen.
In Chapter 6, Dr. Ward responds to ten objections to reading vernacular Bible translations. In #2, Beeke’s “Sounds Like the Word of God” point, Dr. Ward sees a conflict between understanding and reverence where there is none. The KJV is sonorous. In #3, the fact that the KJV uses the thees and thous evinces the fact the translators opted for an older English for precision’s sake. Modern English is simply inadequate to reflect the precision of pronouns and adjectives in the original languages. Dr. Ward’s T-V distinction is a fascinating read but Tyndale’s decision was grammatical not historical, per se. That languages change is a fact, but a written text when understood in its own context provides the meanings necessary to help the reader’s understanding. It is in this sense that the KJV is “timeless.” In #4, quotation marks are purposefully avoided for good reasons: the original languages do not utilize them, these are editorial guesses, and it would appear disingenuous to place a quote where a phrase is not actually quoted anywhere, (e.g. Matthew 2:23). In #6, the italics are purposefully utilized to supply the ellipses of the originals. This is a simple matter of accuracy. In #8, Dr. Ward is neutral in the formal/dynamic equivalence issue. This reviewer appreciates the recent upper hand that formal equivalence has received as of late. In #9, The TR rules, period. For the record: the NKJV and the MEV ambitiously claim to use the TR but undermine it both in the text and in the footnotes and/or margins. Text Criticism is certainly complex, but thankfully not beyond men like the late John Burgon and the late Edward Hills; everyone has their favorite text critics. In #10, Dr. Ward summarizes his arguments. To minimize his thesis is to do him a disservice and to bury one’s head in the sand. Dr. Ward’s knowledge is expert and serves his readers well including antagonistic ones.
In Chapter 7, Dr. Ward walks the readers through his thought process for advocating a multiplicity of English translations. A belief that this reviewer does not share for textual, linguistic, and theological reasons.
Epilogue, Dr. Ward offers a call to action for those who are interested in venturing into modern translations. This reviewer’s call to action is not merely to retain the KJV but to defend the it.
1. Understanding the Bible is paramount.
2. Language is changing. Dr. Ward brings a keen awareness to this fact. Assumptions on the KJV reader’s part must be challenged.
1. Dr. Ward maintains a “studied neutrality” on the textual criticism, and translation methodology.
2. Relevance is prioritized over accuracy.
1. Dr. Ward calls for replacing the KJV. Anathema! 😇
2. Dr. Ward has no doctrine of Providential (or Perfect) Preservation of the Scriptures.
Mark Ward earned a PhD in New Testament Interpretation from BJU. He is a prolific writer and serves as a Logos Pro at Faithlife, the premier private Christian software company, imo.