Bible Commentary, English Patrimony, English Patrimony Ordinariates, Renewal, Social Commentary

The King James Version (KJV) Only?

The King James Only movement is growing among Evangelicals as of late. This is probably the biggest growth I’ve ever seen of the movement in my lifetime.

The King James Only movement is a Protestant quirk, popular among some Evangelical Fundamentalists, wherein they assert that the King James Version is the ONLY authoritative English translation of the Bible, and all other English translations are “modernist corruptions.” You can often tell who these Evangelicals are because their Scripture citations are usually followed by the letters KJV or else they actually spell it out “King James Version” when the use of traditional English should make it obvious anyway. They do this because they are appealing to authority in their use of Scripture. To them, the translation is just as authoritative as the Scripture itself.

Personally, I have no problem with the KJV of the Bible. Like all English translations, it has its strong points and weak points. I have no problem using it, and in fact, there is a two-volume Catholic version of it published by Walsingham Publishing. One can also pick up an ORIGINAL copy of the 1611 version that contains all the additional Catholic books (including some extra) in an Apocrypha section. Most Evangelicals are completely unaware that the original 1611 King James Version of the Bible contained all the Catholic books, and then some. This is because the original King James Version followed the Byzantine text-type or the Textus Receptus. Thus, one could say there is a bit of an Eastern Catholic (or Eastern Orthodox) influence on the Protestant King James Version of the Bible. I suppose some Evangelical Fundamentalists might freak-out upon learning this, but if so, that’s their problem.

Most of these Evangelical Fundamentalists, being totally ignorant of their own Protestant history, are unaware that the original KJV, published in 1611, had all those additional books, and most KJV Bibles now sold in bookstores are abridged, revised and heavily edited versions. What passes for a King James Version Bible now is very much a modern translation, in spite of the traditional English. If you’re a King James Only person, you better get an ORIGINAL 1611 Version or people in-the-know (like me) aren’t going to take you seriously at all.

Still, that said, the King James Version does pick up on some nuances that many modern English translations miss entirely. It’s for this reason that I do still like it, even though I left Protestantism over two decades ago. The closest comparison is the 1610 Douay-Rheims Bible, or DRB, which is just a bit older than the King James Version (by just one year), but officially approved by the Catholic Church at that time. It’s a good Bible too. I like it, though I confess the English translation is a bit more clunky at times, in comparison to the King James Version, but it is nevertheless good. It’s approval from Rome sets it miles above the King James Version in terms of authority, but in terms of quality English, I would hold the DRB and KJV side-by-side as comparable, with the KJV having a slight edge.

In some ways, I’m very happy that the King James Only movement is making a comeback. While I disagree with the reasons for it entirely, I think there is something missing from modern English translations, and it has nothing to do with the translation itself. Rather, it has to do with problems associated with modern English. Sadly, our English language has been dumbed-down, even handicapped in some ways. I consider this a self-inflicted wound that happened over centuries, primarily due to politics. I’ll spare you the details of it.

The end result is this. Modern English now has no distinction between second-personal-singular, versus second-person-plural pronouns. In modern English, the word “you” just refers to the second person or persons. It could be one person, or two, or ten, or a thousand. This may seem like a simplification, but it can (and does) actually complicate the language. Southern Americans, recognizing this problem, have come up with their own informal contraction y’all, which is short for “you all,” in an attempt to fix it. Perhaps Southerners, particularly those in Texas, became hyper-sensitive to the English problem due to their Spanish-speaking neighbors in Mexico, who have retained the superior method of distinguishing between second-person-singular and second-person-plural pronouns. Tu or vos is informal Spanish for “you” and refers to just one person. While ustedes is informal Spanish for “you” in plural, when speaking to more than one person. Such a distinction is extremely helpful in writing. Is the author addressing one reader or more? In Spanish this is crystal clear. In modern English, not so much. When reading the Bible in Spanish, the reader knows if the Bible’s author is addressing one person or more. When reading the Bible in modern English, the reader is left in the dark.

Traditional English didn’t have this problem. In traditional English, the word you was always second-person-plural. It was never used, unless addressing multiple people. The subjective version was ye, used as the subject of a sentence. The objective version was you, used in the predicate of a sentence. Again, this always referred to multiple people, never just one. The word thou was used to address just one person, in the subject of a sentence. While the word thee was also second-person-singular for the object of a sentence, used in the predicate. Thy and thine were possessive forms of those words, used in the subject and predicate of a sentence respectively. The associated verbs also have modifications in traditional English. Verbs attached to second persons end in -est, with the “s” for “second.” Verbs attached to third persons end in -eth, with the “th” for “third.” This may seem complicated to a modern English speaker, but that’s only because the language has been dumbed-down. Granted, people who use traditional English when reading the Bible, or in their prayer devotions, eventually find it comes quite naturally after getting used to it. The inferior nature of modern English makes modern English Bible translations inferior, not because of the translation method, but because modern English is handicapped.

When dealing with the Bible (a compilation of Greek and Hebrew texts), translations into any language can be a touchy matter. In the case of English, it’s especially touchy, mainly because modern English has devolved so rapidly into an inferior version of its former self. More is lost in the translation from Greek and Hebrew into English because of this. This can (and does) have interpretation ramifications, especially among Protestants (both Traditional and Evangelical denominations). It doesn’t affect Catholicism nearly as much because Catholics have institutional authorities to help them interpret the Scriptures properly, or at least in a more consistent way. Nevertheless, Catholics also have constant reference to the DRB as well, which has always been an authorized Catholic translation of the Bible for English-speaking people.

Anything that helps to smarten-up English again is generally a plus in my thinking. If a growing number of Evangelicals want to go back to the KJV (for whatever reason, right or wrong) I’m all for it. Anything to increase the literary IQ of Christians is probably a good thing. As for their reasons why, I really don’t care, and it’s not that important anyway. Catholics don’t base religious authority on Bible translations. That would be a side effect of the sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) doctrine, which is Protestant, and Catholics have always rejected. Besides, I’m an English-Patrimony Catholic, a former Anglican, who is a member of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. Our entire liturgy of the mass, daily office and private devotional are written in traditional English. They would perfectly integrate with the King James Version of the Bible if we wanted to use it. We don’t, at least not at this moment in history, but we could if we wanted to. Basically, what I’m saying here is this. I pray in traditional KJV English all the time. That is my official prayer language, and it’s the official prayer language of a lot of other Catholics too. Even more so, all English-speaking Catholics, everywhere, use traditional English for the Our Father prayer during the liturgy of the mass. This is the standard in the United States, and I presume it to be true in other English-speaking nations as well. Some still use traditional English for the Hail Mary, Apostles Creed and Glory Be in private devotions as well. This is how the Catholic Church has given a nod to the historical development of our English language.