The KJV: A Sealed Book?

I’ve been teaching the second half of the Old Testament in Institute this semester. The KJV is a terrible obstacle to understanding the scriptures.

I find that before we can actually discuss the text, I have to spend a significant amount of class time essentially retranslating the text for my students. Here’s a sample:

My covenant was with him of life and peace; and I gave them to him for the fear wherewith he feared me, and was afraid before my name. (Malachi 2:5 KJV)

The KJV for Malachi 2:5 is basically incomprehensible. Now read the Netbible translation:

My covenant with him was designed to bring life and peace. I gave its statutes to him to fill him with awe, and he indeed revered me and stood in awe before me.” (Malachi 2:5 Netbible)


I can only imagine how difficult it would be for someone without a college education–without a high school education–to understand the scriptures. The situation is even worse for people who weren’t raised with the scriptures. Consider this passage from Romans 4 from the perspective of a new convert with a high school education:

WHAT shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.

Aside from the difficult syntax, I imagine that ‘whereof’, ‘saith’, and ‘impute’ would not be familiar to our reader. Now read it in the NIV:

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about–but not before God. What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.”

It actually makes sense, doesn’t it?


In the past, I’ve lept to defend the Church’s use of the KJV because the language of the KJV is the language of Joseph Smith. Therefore, the reader is likely to miss biblical allusions in the Book of Mormon or the Doctrine and Covenants (or, really, in anything Joseph Smith wrote) if she is not familiar with the KJV Bible. What I overlooked is that picking up on biblical allusions is a fairly advanced skill for a scripture reader. It is certainly a much lower priority than actually reading the Bible is. If an investigator or new convert can’t even read the Bible, they are hardly in a position to notice allusions to other sacred texts.


I’m not looking forward to accusations of ark steadying in the comments, or to the inevitable quotations from mid-twentieth century Church leaders stating that the KJV is the best translation available. I have no beef with them; what they wrote was true when they wrote it. But to stand still is to move relative to the rest of the world, and I’ll spare you the harangue on the failures of the American educational system and the decline of biblical literacy in our culture in making the point that the KJV may have been reasonably comprehensible to someone coming out of a one-room schoolhouse, but it is as a sealed book to many of our high school graduates today. If I have to retranslate the text before I can begin to discuss it with a room full of advanced undergraduates and graduate students at the University of Texas, I can only imagine what happens when a Latino domestic worker or an inner-city high school student tries to read the Bible.


The ramifications of the Church switching to another English translation of the Bible are enormous. Every manual would have to be rewritten to reflect the new text. The seminary memory verses and supporting materials would have to be re-done. The LDS scriptures would have to be reformatted. It would be extremely expensive and complicated. Is there a way to get the benefits of a modern translation while avoiding some of these complications? I believe that there is. I have heard reports (perhaps someone can confirm?) that some BYU Religion professors encourage students to first read a passage in a modern translation and then to read it in the KJV. This seems to me to be a wise practice: it makes the text comprehensible while maintaining our commitment to the KJV. Try it with Leviticus 13:12:

But if the disease breaks out in the skin, so that it covers all the skin of the diseased person from head to foot, so far as the priest can see, (Leviticus 13:12 NRSV)

Now read the KJV:

And if a leprosy break out abroad in the skin, and the leprosy cover all the skin of him that hath the plague from his head even to his foot, wheresoever the priest looketh; (Leviticus 13:12 KJV)

In an ideal world, an inexpensive NIV or NRSV (or whatever) that could fit–along with a triple combination and KJV Bible–into a standard LDS scripture cover would be available through Church distribution. Until then, try it yourself and see if you don’t get immeasurably more from your study of the Bible.

146 comments for “The KJV: A Sealed Book?

  1. Seth R.
    April 20, 2006 at 5:58 pm

    What people don’t realize is that the KJV language has already been abandoned in certain foreign language translations of the BoM.

    For example, in Japan, the members use a fairly current version of the Bible simply because Japanese evolves so drastically, even over the space of twenty years, that a text from 100 years ago is all but unreadable to most modern Japanese (it’s far worse than our difficulties with the KJV). So the church simply uses the bible currently in popular use (probably similar to the NIV).

    When the Book of Mormon was retranslated into contemporary Japanese, old and archaic language was completely abandoned. The newer version is much more readable. Just as readable, in fact, as any paperback in the local bookstore.

    So, in Japan, the KJV is already dead and gone for Mormons.

  2. MikeInWeHo
    April 20, 2006 at 6:06 pm

    I had the same thought: Isn’t this really an issue in the English-speaking portion of the Church?

    Question: What is “ark steadying” ??

  3. gomez
    April 20, 2006 at 6:14 pm

    Could you give me your recommendation as to which new translation would be the best one to use and why. Thanks.

  4. Seth R.
    April 20, 2006 at 6:15 pm

    Ark steadying refers to an Old Testament story about when the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant stumbled. A bystander reached out to “steady the ark” and was struck dead on the spot (God had specifically commanded that none but the Levite priests be allowed to touch the Ark).

    Steadying the Ark is Mormon code for “meddling do-gooders” that try to push their assistance on Priesthood leaders who neither want, nor require their interference. It’s basically a way of telling people to mind their own business.

  5. Julie M. Smith
    April 20, 2006 at 6:20 pm


    I don’t have a strong opinion on which modern translation to use. Here are some options:

    Jewish Publication Society:
    This is, obviously, a Jewish translation.

    NET Bible:
    This is an online version done by conservative Christians. The translation notes (i.e., on the Hebrew and Greek text) are very thorough but sometimes very technical.

    New American Bible:
    This is a fairly recent Catholic translation.

    New International Version:
    This is the most popular 20th century translation and is mainline Protestant.

    New Revised Standard Version:
    This is the scholarly standard and is used by some Catholics, Protestants, and Greek Orthodox. Its use of gender-inclusive language can be beneficial or problematic.

    Young’s Literal Translation:
    It tried to maintain Hebrew tense, case, etc. even when it makes for awkward English. It has the ‘eth’ endings because it was done in the 19th century.

    All: Yes, this is obviously an issue relevant only to English-speaking Saints.

  6. Ben S.
    April 20, 2006 at 6:22 pm

    “I have heard reports (perhaps someone can confirm?) that some BYU Religion professors encourage students to first read a passage in a modern translation and then to read it in the KJV.”

    Yes. My students this summer will be reading out of the KJV and whatever other modern version they want. Through the Rel. Dept., I’ve ordered 20 or so 5$ NIV paperbacks, since they’re so inexpensive. I’ll be pointing them in several directions, though- NIV Study Bible and NET Bible for the footnotes, and NRSV for the translation. My second-hand understanding, though, is that I can’t *require* them to read only a non-KJV translation.

    Since it’s an honors class, we’re also going to do the Greek alphabet and they’ll have a Greek assignment or two, designed to get them into the library and the reference books, or at least know what and where they are ;)

    I know some faculty that have been requiring a second translation for a long time.
    On the other hand, I think many simply go through the KJV. My impression is that there are beginning to be fewer and fewer of these KJV-only users.

  7. April 20, 2006 at 6:39 pm

    My BYU religion teacher required us to also read one other translation. Since I only know English, I used the NIV. I’ve still got it and it helps out from time to time. It also has limited commentary, which is also useful.

    At the time, it felt almost naughty to be buying and reading a non-LDS, non-KJV edition Bible and reading it.

  8. April 20, 2006 at 6:39 pm

    How about more footnotes referencing translations that make sense. I’d sure hate to lose all the language of the KJV.

  9. DHofmann
    April 20, 2006 at 6:39 pm

    A parallel Bible might work:

  10. Costanza
    April 20, 2006 at 6:45 pm

    I completely agree with you about the KJV, Julie. I make it a habit of reading difficult passages to my Gospel Doctrine class from more modern translations. In my university teaching (in a state university’s religious studies program) we always use the NRSV and many students familiar only with KJV feel like they are reading an entirely new book, and many are completely energized by the experience.

  11. Mike Parker
    April 20, 2006 at 6:56 pm

    I second Julie’s recommendation of the NET Bible. It’s a recent translation, early versions of which were published online to solicit comments from Bible readers and scholars; the recently-published first edition is the result of over a decade of work.

    The great thing about the footnotes (aside from their technical depth) is that every time a translation could have gone one of several ways, the editorial team put the alternatives in the footnotes, gave the strengths and weaknesses for each alternative, and stated their reason for choosing the translation they did. This means that editorial bias based on a specific theology (a bane of the NIV) is effectively blunted.

    I don’t see us dropping the KJV because of its similarity to our other scriptures, but we Mormons really, really need to get past the McConkie-eque antipathy toward other, modern Bible translations.

  12. Julie M. Smith
    April 20, 2006 at 7:01 pm

    David asks, “How about more footnotes referencing translations that make sense. I’d sure hate to lose all the language of the KJV.”

    I think that the notations would be so extensive that you would end up with more footnotes than text and a really disjointed reading experience.

  13. g.wesley
    April 20, 2006 at 7:03 pm

    an interesting and challenging problem. on the one hand, i think it’s important for us not to lose touch with the kjv because the rest of the lds canon might never be rendered in a more current english style–in which case, your solution sounds like a good compromise between maintaining/building kjv literacy and facilitating bible comprehension. (in answer to your byu survey, as an undergraduate i witnessed eric huntsman not only encourage his students to consult other bible translations, he frequently used them in his power point slides.)

    on the other hand, seth’s point is one that i had not registered, and it opens up the possibilty of a modernized english lds canon. if the church can do it with japanese, what about english? and as far as the bible goes, what about a mormon translation (j. rueben clark’s dream)? there seem to be enough mormons in biblical studies to do it.

    (in an ideal world, wouldn’t we all be reading greek and hebrew?)

  14. Julie M. Smith
    April 20, 2006 at 7:08 pm

    “(in an ideal world, wouldn’t we all be reading greek and hebrew?)”

    YES! (But I’m not holding my breath . . .)

  15. DKL
    April 20, 2006 at 7:14 pm

    BRAVO, JULIE! I’ve been railing on the KJV in the bloggernacle for years! Starting here, with your 12 questions for Philip Barlow, then building on that on BCC, and then reiterating it on Millennial Star.

    The KJV is not even good or pretty English. It’s mostly just part and parcel of the abomination we call Jacobean English.

    My recommendation: 1985 JPS for the old testament, and the 1972 RSV for the New Testament.

  16. Justin
    April 20, 2006 at 7:33 pm

    The First Presidency last issued a statement on the Bible in 1992. It’s too fresh.

  17. Justin
    April 20, 2006 at 7:44 pm

    The statement does acknowledge that other versions are easier to read, even if the KJV is said to be the preferred version on doctrinal matters.

  18. Mark Butler
    April 20, 2006 at 7:56 pm

    I for one prefer the KJV to all others. The language may be awkward to a modern ear, but it has a beauty all its own. There are portions that are translated so well that it is hard to imagine something superior. The language of the KJV has aged far better than that of Shakespeare. For example, take this passage from Macbeth:

    I conjure you, by that which you profess,
    Howe’er you come to know it, answer me:
    Though you untie the winds and let them fight
    Against the churches; though the yesty waves
    Confound and swallow navigation up;
    Though bladed corn be lodged and trees blown down;
    Though castles topple on their warders’ heads;
    Though palaces and pyramids do slope
    Their heads to their foundations; though the treasure
    Of nature’s germens tumble all together,
    Even till destruction sicken; answer me
    To what I ask you.

    Compare that to this passage from Isaiah 42:

    BEHOLD my servant, whom I uphold; mine belect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.

    He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth.

    He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law.

    Or this passage from Isaiah 53:

    Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?

    For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.

    He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

    Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

    But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

    Now admittedly the language of Paul is hard to follow – but I think that is more due to Paul than to his translators. In general I get the impression that the translations from Hebrew have aged better than the translations from Greek, if only because the language of the latter is often academic and abstract by comparison, especially in the writings of Paul.

  19. Ronan
    April 20, 2006 at 8:03 pm

    Amen, Julie, Amen. Want to raise a petition?

  20. Kimball Hunt
    April 20, 2006 at 8:04 pm

    Fo mahke odda tings bible fo odda peopo

  21. Kimball Hunt
    April 20, 2006 at 8:05 pm
  22. Kimball Hunt
    April 20, 2006 at 8:07 pm
  23. Mark Butler
    April 20, 2006 at 8:09 pm

    Now here are the same passages from the NIV:

    From Isaiah 42:

    “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.
    A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope.”

    From Isaiah 53:

    Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

    He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.

    But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

    To me the KJV translation of these two passages is superior in almost every respect. It is actually poetic, follows some sense of rhyme and meter, has shows better word choice even several hundred years later. By comparison the NIV is plain, flat, and awkward.

    I agree if you are teaching people of limited literacy or education, the NIV is definitely easier to follow. As a work of literature, however, it pales in comparison.

    Take the choice of “snuff out” vs. “quenched”. What kind of literate person doesn’t know what “quenched” means?

  24. Kimball Hunt
    April 20, 2006 at 8:10 pm
  25. Julie M. Smith
    April 20, 2006 at 8:19 pm

    Mark, I think it a little unfair that you select one of the most well-known OT chapters (Isaiah 53) to make your point: it is familiar and so, in this case, the NIV seems foreign and wooden. It is basically understandable in the KJV, so there seems to be no improvement from using the NIV.

    But the less familiar books–Job, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, the Twelve Prophets–are rich treasurehouses that most English-speaking Saints cannot enter because the KJV is barring the door.

    Again, I don’t think abandoning the KJV is a likely solution, but pre-reading a modern English translation makes a world of difference for some texts and does not take away from the understandable, beautiful, famous texts like Isaiah 53.

  26. Kimball Hunt
    April 20, 2006 at 8:40 pm

    Wen dat time come, you guys no goin aks me notting. Dass right! I tell you guys, wateva you guys aks my Fadda, he goin give um to you guys, cuz you my guys. Befo now, you guys neva aks fo notting cuz you my guys. Aks now, and you guys goin get um

  27. Samuel L. Clemens
    April 20, 2006 at 8:44 pm

    “All men have heard of the Mormon Bible, but few except the “elect” have seen it, or, at least, taken the trouble to read it. I brought away a copy from Salt Lake. The book is a curiosity to me, it is such a pretentious affair, and yet so “slow,” so sleepy; such an insipid mess of inspiration. It is chloroform in print. If Joseph Smith composed this book, the act was a miracle — keeping awake while he did it was, at any rate. If he, according to tradition, merely translated it from certain ancient and mysteriously-engraved plates of copper, which he declares he found under a stone, in an out-of-the-way locality, the work of translating was equally a miracle, for the same reason.

    The book seems to be merely a prosy detail of imaginary history, with the Old Testament for a model; followed by a tedious plagiarism of the New Testament. The author labored to give his words and phrases the quaint, old-fashioned sound and structure of our King James’s translation of the Scriptures; and the result is a mongrel — half modern glibness, and half ancient simplicity and gravity. The latter is awkward and constrained; the former natural, but grotesque by the contrast. Whenever he found his speech growing too modern — which was about every sentence or two — he ladled in a few such Scriptural phrases as “exceeding sore,” “and it came to pass,” etc., and made things satisfactory again. “And it came to pass” was his pet. If he had left that out, his Bible would have been only a pamphlet.”

    -Mark Twain, from “Roughing It”, Chapter 16.

  28. Kimball Hunt
    April 20, 2006 at 8:46 pm

    When dat time come, you guys no gwon ax me knotting. Da’s right! I tell you guys, what eva you guys ax my Fodder

  29. Kimball Hunt
    April 20, 2006 at 8:53 pm

    Testing! — 1!, 2!, 3!

    For you to be able to compare textual flavor I’d tried just now to submit a passage from the Hawaiin pidgin bible but — I’d been unsuccessful.

  30. DKL
    April 20, 2006 at 9:06 pm

    Mark, I think that it’s worth noting that the NIV is among the worst renderings of the Bible into late 20th century English. (Strictly speaking, btw, Jacobean English is modern English.)

    The KJV isn’t awkward to the modern ear. It has it’s moments, but it’s just replete with poor, obscure English–in spite of the conventional wisdom that says it’s “majestic.” You’ve picked some pretty decent passages in the KJV–as good as it has to offer. A random comparison of passages reveals that the KJV is worse in every sense. Check out the links that I mention in my earlier comment, a cite several passages chosen at random.

    And besides, the RSV and the NRSV preserve the basic rendering of the KJV in these instances. Even so, the Jewish Publication Society Old Testament is clearer, and more lyrical for its simplicity than the KJV is for it’s distorting grandiosity:

    Isaiah 42:

    This is My servant, whom I uphold,
    My chosen one, in whom I delight.
    I have put My spirit upon him,
    He shall teach the true way to the nations.
    He shall not cry out or shout aloud,
    Or make his voice heard in the streets.
    He shall not break even a bruised reed,
    Or snuff out even a dim wick.
    He shall bring forth the true way.
    He shall not grow dim or be bruised
    Tis he has established the true way on earth;
    And the coastlands shall await his teaching.

    Isaiah 53:

    Who can believe what we have heard?
    Upon whom has the arm of the Lord has been revealed?
    For he has grown, by His favor, like a tree crown,
    Like a tree trunk out of arid ground.
    He had no form or beauty, that we should look at him:
    No charm, that we should find him pleasing.
    He was despised, shunned by men,
    A man of suffering, familiar with disease,
    As one who hid his face from us,
    He was despised, we held him of no account.
    Yet it was our sickness that he was bearing,
    Our suffering that he endured.
    We accounted him plagued,
    Smitten and afflicted by God;
    But he was wounded because of our sins,
    Crushed because of our iniquities.
    He bore the chastisement that made us whole,
    And by his bruises we were healed.

  31. Ben S.
    April 20, 2006 at 9:21 pm

    For myself, 95% of the time I am reading my scriptures is for comprehension. Lovely English places a distant second in importance.

  32. Ben S.
    April 20, 2006 at 9:22 pm

    (Dang, hit enter too quickly.)

    When I want poetry and aesthetic beauty, I read the Hebrew.

  33. Kimball Hunt
    April 20, 2006 at 9:31 pm

    Testing! — 1!, 2!, 3! Oy vey!

    Note: For textual feel I’d offered you all a tiny quote from the Gospel of John from out of the “bestseller in Hawaii,” 2001 biblical translation in Hawaiin patois but I think the computer cast my painstakingly typed submission into the ether somewhere. Unless it’s Julie herself who’s electronically CAST ME OUT of the Times & Seasons community here?! Dass OK! — as I’ve read Mark Twain had the same reaction to “Huck Finn” but then a decade later Twain was extolled a visionary.

  34. meems
    April 20, 2006 at 9:46 pm

    Jared: At the time, it felt almost naughty to be buying and reading a non-LDS, non-KJV edition Bible and reading it.

    LOL! Yes. I’ve never read another translation because I was always taught that it was thisclose to apostasy.

    I remember be taught that the mysteries or difficulties of the KJV could be overcome if we just prayed about it and were in tune with the spirit when we read. AND that the beauty of having certain difficult-to-comprehend parts were that it was one way for people to get personal revelation and meaning out of the verses — you know, I could interpret it one way and you could interpret another way that would be ersonally meaningful for each person. The problem with the newer translations is that an “uninspired” person would be doing the translating for us and would take away the possiblility of personal revelation on any given scripture. I’m not saying that I necessarily agree with this — it’s just what I was brought up with. So, all this talk about reading new translations at BYU is blowing my mind – in a good way!

  35. Julie M. Smith
    April 20, 2006 at 9:51 pm


    On the one hand, I think the Spirit is certainly capable of bridging a language gap to speak to us. On the other hand, do you think the Spirit would work overtime to inspire me if I stared blankly at a page of a Swahili bible? In that situation, I would not be making a good-faith effort to do all I could to understand the text before seeking inspiration, so I doubt inspiration would come. Is it–should it be–different for the KJV?

  36. meems
    April 20, 2006 at 10:06 pm

    No, you’re right, it shouldn’t be different for the KJV. I agree with you! I was just saying that these were the sentiments re: the KJV that I grew up with. Maybe a lot of people grew up with similar teachings, I don’t know. It’s just an interesting way of altering my concepts of “right” and “wrong” within the culture of the church. I think a lot of times, as church members (or probably it’s just me!), whatever is easiest isn’t the best — whatever is most restrictive and difficult is more righteous. Sometimes it’s hard to change old patterns of thought.

  37. Clair
    April 20, 2006 at 10:17 pm

    I too like to read various versions to supplement and illuminate the KJV.

    A couple of years ago, I loaded the BOM into Word and spent several evenings editing the text into modern English. Nothing fancy, just several dozen search and replace operations. I also added back the original chapter divisions, along with the modern ones, and ran the verses together throughout each modern chapter. It is much easier to read, and I don’t believe it affects the doctrine. Can it be uploaded into a library here? It is about 2MB.

  38. A Nonny Mouse
    April 20, 2006 at 10:17 pm

    I had Wilfred C. Griggs for the New Testament at BYU and he had us read any other outside translation along with the KJV. But, I he taught out of the Greek and the KJV in class. Thing is: any translation is still that, a translation.

    So, having more than one translation is still going to be necessary because any single translation is always going to have it’s own shortcomings, along with it’s positives, and if you’re trying to figure out what the original text really said, particularly in the really interesting, disputed texts, the translators are typically going to take a position, and the position they take might not be in line with that of the official church pronouncements on the issue…

    Another consideration: the “Inspired Translation” is heavily reliant on the KJV. Give up the KJV and half of the passages from the Inspired Translation aren’t necessary… or, once again, contradict the translated text. It seems like, for more than any other reasons, we might be stuck with the KJV for simply cultural purposes.

    And: what’s wrong with asking the english speaking saints to stretch a little and learn a bit of archaic english? I see the downsides: there is a real barrier to entry to being able to comprehend the text, but the positives of the text have to include the fact that by stretching themselves intellectually in order to understand the scriptures, the Saints actually stretch themselves in so many other ways, too.

  39. Kevin Barney
    April 20, 2006 at 10:32 pm

    You raise a difficult problem, Julie. As with most of the commenters, I certainly agree that the KJV is a problem.

    About seven years ago, some friends and I kicked around possible solutions to this problem. The easiest, it seemed to me, would be for Saints to read a modern translation, whether in lieu of or in addition to the KJV. But my experience in the Church had been that the vast , vast majority of Saints simply wouldn’t do it. Maybe they would have if there had been some sort of official encouragement, but to date I see precious little institutional tolerance for this solution.

    One fellow wanted to do his own translation of the Bible. I was confident that was not the answer; a specifically LDS translation likely would fall into a NWT ghetto.

    So a couple of friends and I started a project, a book, which we would have called _Footnotes to the New Testament for Latter-day Saints_. We got a prominent LDS publisher on board. The idea was to present the standard KJV text, but then give a greatly expanded set of explanatory notes, focusing mostly on explicating the language, but also with some light background commentary. Sort of like the language notes in the 1979 LDS edition of the KJV, only on acid (including occasional explanations of Greek words, using both Greek fonts and transliteration.)

    We worked on the manuscript for seven years, only to recently find out that it was unpublishable. As you predicted, Julie, the notes overwhelm the text, and the book would be big and expensive, and in the judgment of the publisher too “scholarly” for the general LDS market. (I hope in the near future to e-publish the book on a website to make it available to any interested students. If and when that happens, I’ll announce it to the bloggernacle.)

    I am greatly heartened to hear from Ben that modern translations are making inroads in religious education at BYU. (I know of people who were released from teaching callings for using a modern translation in church classrooms.) Perhaps in another generation that is an attitude that will filter down into the general membership. But we ain’t there yet, not by a longshot. And that is a shame.

  40. WillF
    April 20, 2006 at 10:32 pm
  41. Ben H
    April 20, 2006 at 10:36 pm

    Okay, yes, you have to read the scriptures before things like allusions can have meaning. But then things like allusions start to become important quickly! I am all in favor of reading more than one translation. I see the value in this primarily not, however, as a way of getting away from the “obscure” KJV. I don’t agree that it is all that obscure. Slightly more obscure, okay, but I think all these outbursts are really overdone. Like Mark Butler, I say, “snuff out” versus “quench”–uh, big deal! The scriptures require serious study to be understood properly. Compared with the total amount of study and brain-rewiring they demand, the difference in translations is pocket change.

    I think the main problem in the church with the way we read the scriptures is not that we don’t understand the language. It’s that we do understand the language! And we think we have understood them! We read the same words over and over, without noticing their relation to the stuff on the previous page, or in the next column, or in the next verse! We read the scriptures over and over, and assign some meaning someone told us to assign them years ago, and don’t read them for themselves!

    So, reading another translation shakes us out of the glazed stare mode of scripture reading, makes us encounter the text again as something that might surprise us. Heck, just reading the same text, but in regular paragraphs can do wonders (as in the facsimiles available of the original edition of the Book of Mormon). Another translation also helps us get a better handle on the limitations of any translation, as such.

    I do not oppose reading other translations as an aid to comprehension, and I admit some people of limited literacy will find this a big help.

    However, I think overall, the glazed stare reading of the person who knows the scriptures very well, at a superficial level, is of greater danger to the spiritual vitality of the saints than the unfamiliarities of grammar etc. that show up in the KJV. Not least because the latter is easily remedied, by reading another translation.

  42. April 20, 2006 at 10:38 pm

    Scriptures need to be in people’s native language. Jacobean English is not the native language of very many people in the world. I definitely think it is best to go with the most easily understood and respectful language possible in a translation. The scriptures are read by a wide range of people with a huge range in ability. The KJV is often read by non-native English speakers who cannot possibly be expected to understand a lot of the language.

    I’m glad the KJV is there for people who love the language. I have no problem with it being the official translation of the Church. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for English speakers to make an effort to understand the KJV. But I don’t think it is the only or the best translation out there and people shouldn’t feel like a heretic for reading a different translation.

    This also applies to translations of the Book of Mormon that will be read by many non-native speakers, like Russian. Russian has a huge second-language population and the translation needs to be accessible to that group too since the Book of Mormon hasn’t been translated into the first languages of many of those people.

  43. Kevin Barney
    April 20, 2006 at 10:41 pm

    I first got interested in biblical languages as a green missionary when Bro. Griggs came to do a “Know Your Religion” fireside where I served in Colorado. He worked directly from the Greek in his presentation. As a fresh faced 19-year old in a position where I was deeply aware of my own ignorance and wanting to gain understanding, I thought that was just about the coolest thing I had ever seen. I started to teach myself Hebrew and Greek as a missionary, and would learn those languages formally at BYU later. It was one of the best investments in time and effort that I’ve ever made; reading the Bible in the languages in which the texts were composed is a sheer joy.

  44. mullingandmusing (m&m)
    April 20, 2006 at 11:01 pm

    I find this discussion interesting, especially since the KJV was brought up in Conference only last October. Elder Hales and Pres. Packer both talked about the men who translated the Bible. The feeling I get from re-reading their talks is that the KJV is most true to what Elder Hales said was the translation done while Tyndale was “enlightened by the Spirit of God.” That’s a pretty interesting (and very recent) stamp of approval.

    Let’s just assume for a minute that the KJV is most “true” or most “inspired.” If you add a colloquial translation on top of the KJV, I think you are losing something (or at least at risk of doing so). I’m all for having something on your desk for reference like the BYU religion teachers have their students do to try to “break the seal” on the KJV. But I would not go so far as to say we should change out all our materials.

    Generally speaking, I don’t like reading colloquial translations. I prefer struggling through the KJV for whatever reason. Perhaps it is just because I’m accustomed to it. But I think there is more to it than that for me…I just can’t quite articulate why. I think it has to do with other translations making the scriptures feel more casual or informal or less sacred somehow. May sound weird…I’m not sure how to articulate it.

    I have to say also that I disagree with the concept that “the language of the KJV is the language of Joseph Smith.” Call me a simpleton, but I don’t read the BOM and think “Joseph Smith’s language” nor do I think that when reading the Doctrine and Covenants. I just see those books as what he was simply dictating — what was given to him by revelation. If the Lord dictated the BOM as it is and the Doctrine and Covenants as it is, why would we want to change that?

    One other thought…. Nephi says, “hearken, O my people, which are of the house of Israel, and give ear unto my words; for because the words of Isaiah are not plain unto you, nevertheless they are plain unto all those that are filled with the spirit of prophecy” (2 Ne. 25:4). So, if that is the case, 1) Do we want just anyone interpreting Isaiah (or the scriptures, for that matter)? 2) Is it possible that we are supposed to have to work and struggle some (the Lord says, for example, that we should “search” the words of Isaiah in 3 Nephi — I don’t think he means a casual reading) to understand the scriptures? …to seek for the spirit of prophecy to understand them through the Spirit, not through someone’s simplified version of the approved translation we use?

  45. Kimball Hunt
    April 20, 2006 at 11:04 pm

    Testing, 1!, 2!, 3! — Smiles

  46. Kimball Hunt
    April 20, 2006 at 11:18 pm

    Testing, 1!, 2!, 3! — smiles.

  47. Sideshow
    April 20, 2006 at 11:22 pm


    There’s been a lot of discussion about exactly what the nature of the translations from Joseph Smith are, and as far as I know, they do not represent a word-for-word translation of anything (the Lord’s or any prophet’s words). I could be wrong, but I thought the current best guess is that the BoM and D&C are revelations recorded by Joseph Smith, not dictations. The difference is that Joseph Smith (or anyone) gets ideas and concepts and must put them into words when revelation is received, and Joseph simply writes down what he “hears” when dictation is received. I don’t have an immediate link to back this up, but I think Joseph spent a lot of his BoM translation time looking into the Urim and Thummim, getting revelation about what the BoM said instead of actually translating things straight off the page.

    That having been said, the KJV is supposed to be the most doctrinally correct. As long as you’re comparing a more readable translation to the KJV to catch doctrinal differences, you should be covered. However, I may be the only one here who reads both translations and thinks the modern ones are no better for helping me understand what’s being said. Not that I can understand the KJV all the time — for the passages you chose, Julie, I can’t understand them any better with the newer translations.

    However, I have a decent education and have been reading the KJV for a long time, so I could allow for people who do experience a difference.

  48. Kimball Leigh Hunt
    April 20, 2006 at 11:22 pm

    Testing, 1!, 2!, 3! (smiles)

  49. gst
    April 20, 2006 at 11:24 pm

    I prefer The Brick Testament, tho’ I have doubts about it gaining wide acceptance in the Church.

    (I’m not linking. Google it if you must.)

  50. Wilfried
    April 20, 2006 at 11:31 pm

    Thanks for this fascinating topic, Julie. From the viewpoint of one whose mothertongue is not English, I have to agree wholeheartedly (and then I can still read English rather fluently, but KJV is often nightmare). For the many members with other native tongues who, because of circumstances, need to shift to reading Scriptures in English, the KJV is a major stumbling block.

    The first comments on this thread referred to other languages. I can only judge from French and Dutch, but in both languages Mormons use officially rather “modern” translations, certainly in modern spelling (but I remember heroic battles, years ago, when a traditionalist, older Church authority tried to block the step away from the ancient Dutch Bible translation to a modern one). I think modern spelling is an educational must for our children, especially those who struggle already with reading and writing. It makes no sense to compell them to read confusing language.

  51. April 20, 2006 at 11:48 pm

    Kevin (#31): Wow, I’m really curious and anxious to hear about any developments in your project/publication (and if there’s anything I can do to help; you can find my email address here, though I check BCC enough if you post any major developments there). Having notes like that available on-line would be a dream, something we’re trying to work toward under the “Lexical notes” heading at the Feast wiki.

    I think the “supplemental notes” approach is the most realistic short-term solution, mainly b/c of the JST vs. “which translation is the most inspired?” issues. I think it makes sense to have an official version that SS classes use as the base text, and it’s hard for me to see the church changing from the KJV anytime soon.

    I can also imagine parallel bibles becoming more popular in GD classes, so that a member could follow along with the lesson, but also note interesting translation issues on the fly. I’m not sure about cost and marketing issues, but I could imagine an LDS publisher making a parallel version of the Bible that could become popular, perhaps with fully integrated JST notes and a few other LDS flourishes, esp. if there were some sort of semi-official endorsement through BYU or FARMS or something….

  52. April 20, 2006 at 11:57 pm

    m&m (#36): I think the comments about “the language of the KJV is the language of Joseph Smith” have more to do with the fact that Joseph Smith was familiar with the KJV and was therefore more likely to use the terminology and phraseology of the KJV in translating/transcribing the BOM, D&C, etc. I think this is a major reason the church will not switch from the KJV being the official version—after all, many passages in the BOM use identical phraseology as in the KJV, and I think a retranslation of the BOM is extremely unlikely….

  53. mullingandmusing (m&m)
    April 20, 2006 at 11:57 pm

    A parallel bible thingamajig sounds interesting….

  54. Mark Butler
    April 21, 2006 at 12:03 am

    DKL, I agree there are better alternatives than the NIV, and that there are definitely areas that could use some serious improvement in the KJV. The translation you quoted still sounds awkward to my ear though. It is as if the corresponding portions of the KJV were done by a master of the English language, and the other versions by mere apprentices.

    So why not use a something closer like the New King James Version?

  55. Kimball Leigh Hunt
    April 21, 2006 at 12:04 am

    Testing, 1!, 2!, 3! smiles.

  56. N.G.
    April 21, 2006 at 12:23 am

    A comment which may or may not add to the discussion: In 1993, the First Presidency issued a statement discouraging the production of modern-language versions of the Book of Mormon. As part of that letter, they had this statement:

    “When a sacred text is translated into another language or rewritten into more familiar language, there are substantial risks that this process may introduce doctrinal errors or obscure evidence of its ancient origin.”

    Several comments have been working through the issue of doctrine as it relates to language; I wonder if the second half of that claim might have something to do with the use of the KJV as well? That is, by being one of the oldest English translations, there is a sense of being “closer” to the original (the validity of such a claim might be in doubt, but the fact is that many people see things that are older as more authoritative–hence the fallacious but hugely popular “passed the test of time” argument).

  57. Kimball Leigh Hunt
    April 21, 2006 at 12:25 am

    Testing, 1!, 2!, 3! [smiles]

  58. DKL
    April 21, 2006 at 12:38 am

    I think it would be cool to have a good ol’ fashion book burning, where everyone burned the Bible they hated most. Mark Butler could burn his NIV. Me, Julie, and Ronan could burn the KJV. RM’s from all over the world could burn green dragons. Evangelists could burn the RLDS/CoC editions of the Inspired Version. It would be a blast! Like in the old days when they used to have bonfires before a homecoming. We could get the Bibles from the Gideons so that it wouldn’t cost a thing!

  59. MikeInWeHo
    April 21, 2006 at 12:52 am

    We are sitting here debating whether or not the Church should use something other than the KJV. In the mean time, Church growth/retention has ground to a halt, while the Evangelicals expand like Wal-Mart. For them the KJV is ancient history.

    What on earth is the problem here? ALL the scriptures need to be delivered in the language of today. Why isn’t the BoM available in contemporary English?

    The language of Joseph Smith’s time is gone. We speak something different. What’s the big deal? He would have understood the situation and translated accordingly.

  60. April 21, 2006 at 1:09 am

    30 — What’s wrong is that it doesn’t work. People don’t understand Jacobean English, so they make horribly mistakes in trying to interpret a language that they don’t have fluency in. And it’s not like the scriptures in other languages are translated into anything other than modern dialects. And it’s not as if we don’t have more than a dozen prophets, seers and revelators capable of translating into modern language under the inspiration of God if that’s what it takes. Or, a bit more practically, language departments at the BYUen that could do whatever translating it would take to bring LDS scripture into Standard American English.

    And it’s not like the message of scripture is so fragile that it couldn’t survive being translated into vernacular dialects either.

    But it’s not going to happen in my lifetime, so there’s not much point in worrying about it. If we can’t bring Mohammed to the mountain, maybe we can bring the mountain to Mohammed thusly: how about we actually teach Jacobean English to English-speaking Mormons. The Schindler brothers had an outline for a brief course in Jacobean English that would work quite well as a starting point, and it’s not like it’d be a lengthy or terribly difficult course. But some way of breaking through the most abhorent common problems (like pronouncing “shew” as if it rhymed with “few” when it rhymes with “sew”) and giving people a way of making sense of archaic uses and idioms that they simply don’t get wouldn’t kill anybody and might increase scripture study.

  61. N.G.
    April 21, 2006 at 1:19 am

    Actually, the course would be in Early Modern English… “Jacobean” refers to the time period of the reign of James I, when the KJV was published, but linguistically everything until ~ 1650 is still called Early Modern. (If we were to term the type of language according to the royal era, it would probably be more accurate to call the KJV Elizabethan English, since the translators would have all been educated before James ascended to the throne).

  62. Hans
    April 21, 2006 at 1:40 am

    When I was on my mission in Norway we used a Norwegian Bible that was a translation of Luther’s German translation of the Bible.

  63. Wilfried
    April 21, 2006 at 8:02 am

    This fascinating discussion reminds me of the 1960s when a grassroot movement against Latin in the Catholic Church finally led to adopting a liturgy that all could understand well in their native languages. Actually the movement towards more understandable language in the Scriptures had started earlier in the 20th century in the Catholic Church, while the desire to remain with older translations was typical of Calvinistic trends — a protective reaction born out of their own struggles in the 16th century and a desire to keep close to that heritage.

    Modernization of language in the Scriptures does not have to threaten doctrinal correctness, on the contrary: if well directed, under proper inspiration, it allows to clarify doctrine. And as to “obscuring evidence of its ancient origin”, I recognize this is true, but an introduction could remind readers of characteristics of the original text, with a few examples, explain that spelling, words and structures evolve “according to our manner of speech” — and refer to Moroni:

    “And now, behold, we have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech.”

  64. Dan Richards
    April 21, 2006 at 9:08 am

    I’ve been nursing a pet idea for a long time, ever since I began reading one of those replica first-edition copies of the Book of Mormon and noticed how frequently subject-verb disagreements appeared in that edition. The Prophet personally oversaw the later revision in which most of those disagreements were corrected. It’s very readable without the corrections, but they do stand out to a modern reader. Couldn’t we do the a similar thing with the archaic pronouns and verbal suffixes? We could leave the entire text unchanged, except for changing every “hath” to “has,” every “thou knowest” to “you know,” etc. The text would still sound somewhat stilted to modern ears, but a huge portion of the obstacle to many readers would simply melt away, all without changing a single phrase or replacing a single word (just updating its form). It would be an easy transition too–it wouldn’t be hard to follow lessons taught from the old (or new) version if you had the opposite version, because the text would flow almost the same and your eyes (or ears) could easily skim over the suffixes. Maybe most importantly, this strategy should be immune to criticisms that it represents an attempt to “improve” on a translation that was directed by God–the translation would be exactly the same as the original, word for word, with the form of the word updated. Anybody who complained could be ordered to say “inviteth and enticeth” twenty times fast.

  65. Mark B.
    April 21, 2006 at 9:09 am

    I already had a three-year course in reading Early Modern English, that has contributed substantially to my ability to understand the KJV. It’s called “law school.”

    Which points up the difficulty that Julie and so many others have noted–not everybody has gone to law school, and most people don’t want to (hard to believe, eh?), and for those who don’t go, the challenge of reading and understanding cause us to read the bible as if we were island-hopping Marines in the Pacific during World War II. We read a familiar passage, and we believe we understand it, and we joy in the beauty of the language (I’ll take second to nobody in my love for Isaiah 53, not even “Mark Butler” whose name sounds a lot like mine but who is somebody else), but then we’re off through another five chapters of uncharted, uncomprehended seas until we find another island of understanding. Will we (or can we) ever fill in those blanks, or will we continue to hop from island to island, skipping over those parts that are “too hard”? Unfortunately, the way our Sunday School curriculum is organized makes it altogether too easy to skip over the hard parts and instead to spend yet another hour talking about the parts we already think we understand.

  66. Scott Burton
    April 21, 2006 at 9:23 am

    Jerome, Erasmus, Wycliff, Tyndale, Coverdale. All of these were persecuted–there was even loss of life–all because they wanted to make the Bible more assessible. Mostly they wanted to assist common people in reading the word of the Lord in their own (vulgar) language.

    A local English archbishop wrote to the pope: “This pestilent and wretched John Wyclif, (sic) of cursed memory, that son of the old serpent… endeavoured (sic) by every means to attack the very faith and sacred doctrine of the Holy Church, devising—to fill up the measure of his malice—the expedient of a new translation of the Scriptures into the mother tongue� (From The Journey from Texts to Translations, p. 282).

    Tyndale once said, “I perceived that it was impossible to establish the lay-people in any truth, except the Scripture were plainly laid before their eyes in their mother tongue, that they might see the process, order, and meaning of the texts� (From Wide as the Waters, p. 90).

    “For eighty years after its publication in 1611, the King James version endured bitter attacks. It was denounced as theologically unsound and ecclesiastically biased, as truckling to the king and unduly deferring to his belief in witchcraft, as untrue to the Hebrew text and relying too much on the Septuagint. The personal integrity of the translators was impugned. Among other things, they were accused of ‘blasphemy,’ ‘most damnable corruptions,’ ‘intolerable deceit,’ and vile imposture’� (From The Journey from Texts to Translations, p. 313). The puritans, including those who came to America were some of the version’s harshest critics.


  67. April 21, 2006 at 9:31 am

    DKL #46,

    Much as I would love to burn a few KJV’s I just realised that there is something about the KJV that tickles me: the title page dedication to King James. Not that I’m a fan of James or anything (I am, however, an ardent monarchist), but it always pleased me that in our uber-American church there was this “doxology” to a British* monarch in Mormon scripture. That has to stay!

    * Scottish not English though. Alas.

  68. Mark B.
    April 21, 2006 at 9:52 am

    It would be a lot easier to understand Ronan if he’d spell “realized” like a colonial, rather than like an old Imperialist!

  69. g.wesley
    April 21, 2006 at 9:58 am

    Mark B (53): Here, here, for contextualized reading!

    Dan (52): I think you’ve found the answer.

    FYI. For the last few years, a handful of professors have been working on a ‘byu new testament commentary’ which aspires to be 13 volumes and academic (whether it delivers is yet to be seen). here’s the mission statement:

    ‘many new testament commentaries are produced by people who have particular points of view, such as catholics, baptists, or secular historians. the byu commentary will be written from an lds persective, but at the same time, it will pass the muster of scholarly rigor’ -welch

    each volume will feature front matter on authorship, date, etc., followed by the kjv and a new ‘byu rendition’ (a less threatening way to say retranslation of the greek) in parallel columns, complete with linguistic, historical, and theological notes and commentary. the first volume might go to print in a year.

  70. Blake
    April 21, 2006 at 9:59 am

    Julie: There is nothing like learning Greek and Hebrew to get the best view — so maybe we ought to just mandate Hebrew and Greek as second and third languages [smile]. That said, there is a very good reason to keep the KJV that I think may trump my desire for better understanding and more intelligible texts. The Bible is old. It comes from a different world. The language is archaic even in the Greek and Hebrew. Modern translations give incredible theological spins and twists — but it takes a very knowledgable person to grasp this theological spin. I object to translations that make it appear that the writers of the Bible were speaking about our world of science and especially the evangelical tendency to see the Bible as a book of theological propositions. The bible addresses a different time, very different world-views, different horizons, different mythic assumptions and stories. The KJV preserves that archaic distance for because it is archaic and distant to us.

    The language of the KJV reminds us that the language of the bible is not our language. It is not our world-view. To get behind the language one must stretch and read carefully and ponder what the heck the text means at all. But heck, do we really want to challenge the Primary with that kind of task? So I advocate KJV only in Priesthood and Relief Society with easier versions that make no pretense to theological readings in earlier years. Just reading various versions gives various textual perspectives and creates the experience of reading the book for the first time or hearing it freshly. So maybe we ought to change every three years. Or better yet, maybe it is more workable to just learn Hebrew and Greek (and Aramaic for the book of Daniel).

  71. KLC
    April 21, 2006 at 10:08 am

    BYU professors using other translations is not new. I took a New Testament class from Richard Lloyd Anderson in the late 70s and we used a modern version, I can’t recall which one right now but I still have it at home and use it for study.

  72. Seth R.
    April 21, 2006 at 10:14 am

    I think that the BoM’s reliance on the language of the KJV can be more than a problem of understandability. It can also be a problem of doctrinal credibility.

    The versions following the KJV are simply more accurate translations of the oiginal Greek and Hebrew texts. The KJV is alleged to have made several outright mistakes and, as far as the BoM is linked to the KJV, it risks making the same doctrinal mistakes.

    However, I am not qualified to pursue this line of thought any further since I’m not familiar with the passages in question. Perhaps one of the more learned participants can address this?

    I will say however, it does no good to adopt a newer translation of the Bible if you are not going to provide a newer version of the Book of Mormon with language linked to the newer translation.

    The problem is, of course, that mainline Christianity has the original source documents for the Bible available. Moroni currently has our original source documents. Until he brings them back, any attempt to “update” the Book of Mormon is going to be suspect.

  73. Kevin Barney
    April 21, 2006 at 10:27 am

    I’ll be looking for the BYU NT Commentary project with great interest. One of the brilliant ideas John Welch had for this project was to do a critical text of the NT *in English*. In the past, the only way to use either Nestle-Aland or UBS was to work with it in Greek. One of the volumes in the BYU project will give the critical apparatus (I think of UBS; Nestle-Aland wouldn’t really work for this purpose) in an English translation, so that interested English readers can see the different variants and evaluate the evidence for them without first learning Greek. This is a very creative endeavor.

  74. D. Fletcher
    April 21, 2006 at 10:37 am

    Personally, I don’t see why the Church couldn’t put out an official “study” version of all of our Scriptures. We’ve got translators on staff — why not get some translators from Elizabethan English to modern English?

    When my parents retired, I inherited a book from their library called A Voice from the Dust — A Sacred History of Ancient Americans. Yes, it’s the Book of Mormon, with modern puncuation, written in paragraph style, with dialogue in quotations, and only one phrase removed “and it came to pass.”

    It was enormously helpful to me as a teenager.

  75. g.wesley
    April 21, 2006 at 10:37 am

    perhaps the greatest reason why the kjv is outdated as far as the nt goes is the fact that the greek text (textus receptus) upon which it and its predecessors were based consisted of few and relatively poor mss. there are literaly thousands more mss availible now than there were then (many of which are older and more reliable), so modern translations are based on a different and more accurate greek text. it’s more than an issue of style.

  76. g.wesley
    April 21, 2006 at 10:40 am

    kevin (61): i had not heard that. interesting. thanks

  77. April 21, 2006 at 11:16 am

    I see one advantage to using the KJV: Because it is a fairly literal (which is different than accurate) translation, it is relatively easy using the KJV to use various resources such as Strong’s Concordance to get a better idea of what the original Greek and Hebrew meant.

    And, yes, it does have some traditional language that we’re all used to. There are a few passages, such as the 23rd Psalm and the “suffering servant” passage of Isaiah, that are unequaled for their literary majesty.

    But it certainly gets in the way of understanding what the original writers meant. Even the fact that it’s broken up into verses and arbitrary chapters increases its difficulty of use.

    And then there are the annoyances. I teach a primary class, and they won’t read parts of it out loud, because it’s embarrassing to them (I told them to substitute the word “donkey” instead and they can live with that, but I hope I’m not corrupting them by letting them change scripture). And I haven’t even got them to the verse that talks about those who p—eth against the walls.

    And then there are the things that people routinely misunderstand because the language has changed since 1611. Are we a “peculiar” people? Yes! But that doesn’t mean we’re odd or different (OK, we are, but that’s not what the word means in the context of the KJV). And the next time I hear somebody say we shouldn’t drink nonalcoholic beer (for example) because of the “appearance of evil,” I think I’ll scream. (What Paul really said is that we should avoid every type of evil, not things because they look evil.)

    OK, end of my rant.

    Not all modern translations are good. The NIV is atrocious for its 7th-grade level of writing and its theological biases. The TNIV is a bit better. I think the NET Bible is especially good, mostly because it explains the translation alternatives. And in areas where there are some distinct LDS doctrines, I have found that it doesn’t contradict them.

    Overall, I think we’d be better off adopting a modern translation, even if it gets only secondary use.

  78. D. Fletcher
    April 21, 2006 at 11:21 am

    Many people think that the KJV was translated directly from the Greek. But this just wasn’t so; it was a compendium of previous English versions, mostly utilizing the Tynsdale. They did try to make corrections that matched the Greek, but for the most part, our English Bible has evolved from previous versions.

  79. g.wesley
    April 21, 2006 at 11:28 am


  80. Ben H
    April 21, 2006 at 11:53 am

    Church growth/retention has ground to a halt, while the Evangelicals expand like Wal-Mart. For them the KJV is ancient history.

    Hm. Last I heard, the fastest-growing religion in the world is Islam, and they still read the Koran in the original Arabic, more than 1000 years old. Wal-Mart is expanding like Wal-Mart, too; that doesn’t mean we should stop being a church and start being Wal-Mart!

  81. MikeInWeHo
    April 21, 2006 at 12:13 pm

    This string brought back memories of growing up a Wisconsin Synod Lutheran (Garrison Keillor fans take note). When the Synod decided to replace the KJV with the NIV, it caused a HUGE uproar, especially among the older members. In particular, people were distressed that certain treasured passages (the 23rd Psalm, etc) were being “taken away.” It hit them very hard emotionally. Ultimately, the change took place. A handful left the denomination for an even smaller spinter group. It’s a long-dead issue now, though.

    I wonder, are there any other major denominations in the U.S. that still use the KJV the Church does? I can’t think of any.

  82. April 21, 2006 at 12:46 pm

    I think a huge factor in this discussion is dialect-based warfare in the English Language. Archaic forms are seen as “better” by some and “snobbier” by others, and much of the fight has to do with this disagreement. I hit this with more the approach of a linguist — there is no such thing as “better” or “worse” dialects. There is no absolute reference against which we can measure a dialect to see superiority or inferiority. When we use those words, we’re basing it on what we believe to be “better” or “worse” based on cultural beliefs that we would likely have a difficult time identifying the origins of.

    When you translate something from one language to another, you will lose some things, and you will gain some things, and some of those things you lose will be important, and some of the things you gain will be erroneous. But we still translate our scriptures into many languages because we want people to be able to read the word of God and understand it, even though none of the translations we have is perfect. Even the modern day scripture in its original form isn’t perfect.

    Aren’t we taught that we should study the scriptures (not just read them) prayerfully, asking the Spirit to help us understand their meaning and to find the important parts we are to use in our lives and how to use them? Is the Spirit such a wimp that he can’t overcome artifacts of translation? Clearly not, as we continue to translate scriptures into more and more languages — we wouldn’t do so as a Church if we believed this was a problem.

    There is no technical problem in making translations of LDS scripture into more current dialects of English. There is only a cultural problem that stands in the way of it, and that cultural problem is not likely to begin to budge any time soon. Perhaps it can change when individuals at local levels begin to address the topic in class settings, and it is discovered that we don’t get rampant heresy, apostacy, and rejection of green jell-o as a result. When buildings fail to collapse, the world doesn’t go on its ear, and cats and dogs fail to live together, then there might be an acceptance of these ideas on a wider level.

    So, for those thus inclined, feel free to bring an alternate version of the Bible (or the Easy to Ready Book of Mormon, or whatever) to class and, if you’re going to read out of it, say “I’m using a slightly different version, so the wording I have may be a little different from what you’ve got” and then go ahead. Reference the GC talks that have included quotes from different versions of the Bible if you need to with the class, teacher or bishop — whomever you have your conversation with.

    Personally, I’ve wanted to find a copy of the Jive Bible, where Jesus says “Hey, man, chill!” That’s the kind of language we need to translate the Book of Mormon into — just imagine what Alma will say to Corianton in that dialect. We need to reach people with the word of God in a form that they can understand and draw meaning from, rather than insisting that they come to be like us, look like us, talk like us, and read archaic English like us. The people who are humbled by life and ready for the message of repentance and the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ aren’t necessarily fluent in Standard American English, let alone with Early Modern British English, and they need the word in their form just the way those who are physically weak might need food in a predigested form. Translating into current dialects will not destroy the original versions, which will be ready and available for those who want them for both study and personal reading, rather like Greek, Hebrew and Syriac versions of the Bible texts are still around for those who wish to study them. But God speaks to us in our own language, and his word should be able to do that also.

  83. g.wesley
    April 21, 2006 at 1:56 pm

    while we’re updating the canon, why not iclude some stuff from qumran (per oaks recent address), nag hammadi, words of joseph smith, etc?

  84. Harold B. Curtis
    April 21, 2006 at 2:14 pm

    Very interesting.

    I wonder what syntax the records of the Lost tribes of Israel will be when they are published?

    What syntax would the publication of the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon be in, if translated in this post Joseph Smith world?

    Will the Savior be speaking KJ english at the second coming? Will his recorded words be published in King James english?

    If all the sayings of the Lord which we do not yet have, were today revealed and published what syntax would be used?

    If the epistles of the Apostles from the meridan of time, not included in our current scripture were suddenly found what syntax would they be published in?

    Are the conference talks any less inspiring because they are in modern english rather than KJ english?

    Perhaps such emminent realities as the coming forth of more ancient scriptures are shaping the descisions of the presiding brethren today, with regard to the current standard works.

    If King James english is to be the ultimate rendering of the word, perhaps it’s time for classes and course work in KJ english to be taught, in our church owned schools, institutes and seminaries.

    Random thoughts.


  85. DKL
    April 21, 2006 at 2:52 pm

    Interesting questions, Harold. That reminds me (if I remember correctly): Speaking of the records of the lost tribes, Talmage said in a conference talk in 1910 that their records would become available in the next century. 4 years left for either (a) Talmage to be wrong, or (b) the records to come forth. Or, perhaps they are already available and are just not recognized as such.

  86. KLC
    April 21, 2006 at 2:56 pm

    Following some of the links Julie provided I found NIV paperbacks for $2.50 each or $2 each in a case of 24 (

    If I were still gospel doctrine teacher I would be tempted to buy a case and provide my class with a complimentary copy for studying during the year.

  87. mullingandmusing (m&m)
    April 21, 2006 at 3:34 pm

    As a technicality “in the next century” could also mean anytime in this 21st century. “Within the next century” would mean it had to happen within a 100-year time span.

  88. g.wesley
    April 21, 2006 at 3:45 pm

    going back to seth’s comment (72), can anyone think of doctrinally significant, specific kjv mistakes reproduced in the book of mormon, d&c, pgp? the closest thing i can come up with off hand is joseph smith’s declaration that the kjv of 1 john was ‘correct,’ implying (unwittingly perhaps) that the johannine comma is legitimate.

  89. smb
    April 21, 2006 at 3:49 pm

    Great discussion. What fascinates me is the extent we are not mentioning the philosophical problem underlying the preference for the KJV. J. Reuben Clark was pretty explicit about his reason for preferring KJV, and I think that remains the reason for preferring the KJV. For Anglo-Americans, it represents the translation that was current before the onset of higher biblical criticism. Emphasis on textual notes, focus on the original languages, improving readability, all risk presenting the Bible as other than a holy scripture allied with 19th-century Evangelical Protestantism.

    Most of our Biblical interpretation so far is defined by pre-higher criticism conservative Protestantism. Moving beyond the KJV risks exposing us to higher criticism.

    Personally I don’t mind KJV that much at all. Feels like reading Shakespeare, but Jesus is the star of the play. I like the Jerusalem Bible a fair bit, the NRSV a fair bit, Oxford Study Bible is reasonable. I also like interlinear English-Greek/Hebrew or wandering through the Greek of the Received Text (takes a couple years to study but then you can kind of stagger through it).

  90. D. Fletcher
    April 21, 2006 at 3:58 pm

    Some theories abound that Shakespeare himself may have contributed to the KJV. All the best writers were called to the “symposium,” why not Will himself?

  91. Ben S.
    April 21, 2006 at 4:06 pm

    “specific kjv mistakes reproduced in the book of mormon, d&c, pgp?”

    Yes, on both the lexical (ie. in Isaiah chapters and 3 Nephi), cultural (3rd nephi again), and canonical level (ie. crossing source seams, the existence of the “five books of Moses,”etc.)

    These aren’t testimony or historicity killers by any means (unless you have a very fragile testimony) and researching and discussing them often leads to some very interesting things. John Welch does an admirable job with this in 3rd Nephi, in his THe Sermon at the Temple and the Sermon on the Mount

  92. DKL
    April 21, 2006 at 4:36 pm

    SMB, Joshua Clark’s defense of the KJV was basically that the texts of the New Testament are in such horrible disarray that there’s no telling which one is right, so we may as well stick with the one that we have. Oh, and he doesn’t like the translation of the word rendered as “charity” in 1st Corinthians 13. These aren’t exactly great reasons for sticking with the KJV.

    I don’t mean to disparage his book in general. His analysis of biblical criticism is one of the best yet written for a lay audience–and this is no mean feat. I’d recommend Why the King James Version? to anyone as an intro to learn the lay of the land in textual criticism.

  93. Julie M. Smith
    April 21, 2006 at 5:12 pm

    Kevin, I am sorry to hear that your book project isn’t working out. I thought it would be a blessing to LDS readers. You also wrote, “I know of people who were released from teaching callings for using a modern translation in church classrooms.”

    FYI to anyone in this boat: Don’t say, “I’m now going to read the NIV because the KJV stinks.” Say, “Here’s an alternate rendering from the Hebrew.” The latter is much less likely to get you in trouble.

    m & M writes, “I think it has to do with other translations making the scriptures feel more casual or informal or less sacred somehow. ”

    Remember, though, that the original language of much (not all) of the OT and NT is ‘normal’ street language. For you to encounter the language as elevated or holy-sounding is NOT what the original authors intended.

    “If the Lord dictated the BOM as it is and the Doctrine and Covenants as it is, why would we want to change that?”

    Well, I’m certainly not advocating that, but we DO change that anytime we translate them in to other languages.

    “Is it possible that we are supposed to have to work and struggle some (the Lord says, for example, that we should “searchâ€? the words of Isaiah in 3 Nephi — I don’t think he means a casual reading) to understand the scriptures? …to seek for the spirit of prophecy to understand them through the Spirit, not through someone’s simplified version of the approved translation we use?”

    I don’t think Nephi meant ‘struggle with the language’ as much as he meant ‘struggle with the meaning.’ I’m also not sure what you mean by ‘simplified version’–none of the translations mentioned are that.

    N. G. writes, “That is, by being one of the oldest English translations, there is a sense of being “closerâ€? to the original (the validity of such a claim might be in doubt, but the fact is that many people see things that are older as more authoritative–hence the fallacious but hugely popular “passed the test of timeâ€? argument).”

    This is a terrible argument because of the numerous texts discovered since the KJV was translated as well as the biases of the translators. (Hint: ‘James’ isn’t a Hebrew name :) )

    Wilfried makes an important point: it isn’t as if newer translations are inherently more doctrinally suspect. We have problems all through the OT of the KJV with God ‘repenting,’ a word that no (or almost no) modern translations use: they usually go for something like ‘relent.’

    Re Dan Richards in #64: that’s a good idea.

    Re Mark B. in #65: I really like your island hopping analogy. It is true, and it is a crime.

    Re Scott Burton in #66: Very interesting, very ironic!

    Blake writes, “The KJV preserves that archaic distance for because it is archaic and distant to us.” I actually think this is the single best argument for keeping the KJV around. However, the question is (1) whether the advantages of this outweigh the costs of having a significant percentage of the church unabl;e to understand large swaths of the bible and (2) whether references to things like talking donkeys, etc., would be enough to remind us of our distance from the text even when rendered into modern english. I do think that they would.

    Seth writes, “Iwill say however, it does no good to adopt a newer translation of the Bible if you are not going to provide a newer version of the Book of Mormon with language linked to the newer translation.”

    It seems to me that if the footnotes in the BoM indicated where it was quoting the OT/Nt this problem would be resolved.

    Copedi writes, “Because it is a fairly literal (which is different than accurate) translation, it is relatively easy using the KJV to use various resources such as Strong’s Concordance to get a better idea of what the original Greek and Hebrew meant.”

    Since this is all available online, there is no reason using a modern trans. for personal study would impede using the KJV and strong’s online to look words up.

    smb writes, “Moving beyond the KJV risks exposing us to higher criticism.”

    There’s no point in pretending like it isn’t out there. . .And, I’ll note, the current LDS editoin has plenty of feetnotes to Heb, Gk, other mss, etc. It’s too late–the barn door is open.

  94. mullingandmusing (m&m)
    April 21, 2006 at 5:43 pm

    I’m also not sure what you mean by ’simplified version’–none of the translations mentioned are that.

    I thought the whole argument was that the KJV is too “hard” to understand. What I meant by simplified is “‘easier’ to understand.” Perhaps I should have repeated my use of “colloquial” instead.

    Well, I’m certainly not advocating that, but we DO change that anytime we translate them in to other languages.
    Yes and no. The Spanish translations of the scriptures use a form rarely used (vosotros) except in Spain. There is still a different feel to the scriptural language when compared to colloquial speech.

    I don’t think that the people of JS’s time walked around talking in “thee” and “thou”…so why do you think the Lord spoke to Joseph in KJVesque language? If it would have been easier to understand in colloquial terms, why didn’t He also give a translation to JS of the BOM in more colloquial language. (Can you imagine that JS went around saying, “And it came to pass….”?) I think

    I also want to add something. My oldest child is not yet 8 and we read from the scriptures every day to them. I am amazed at how much they can understand, even at their young ages, and even with the “different” language. Perhaps some of the problem is not that the young people can’t understand, but that they haven’t been exposed enough in their lives to the language of scripture. So, for those of you who are parents (since it doesn’t seem like any official different translation will be coming around anytime soon), read to your children in the scriptures (not picture books or any other substitution)! (We sometimes use a technique I saw in other family — one parent reads the scripture, the other parent translates in kid-speak. This kind of thing can really make a difference if done for over a decade before the kids reach institute, where Julie has seen the lack of ability to understand.) Just some thoughts….

  95. Kimball Leigh Hunt
    April 21, 2006 at 6:00 pm

    I’m down with Blain (in 82). And in fact a great deal of contemporary speech is indebted to the vernacular of Afican American vernacular — as for example (from a liguistics site)
    bogus — may be related to the Housa words /boko/ or /boko-boko/ for “deceit, fraud”
    hip — to the Wolof word /hipi/ for “to open one eyes, be aware”
    cat — to the Wolof /-kat/ (a suffix meaning “person”)
    cool — as may be translated directly from the Mandingo word /suma/ meaning “controlled” and also, literally, “cool”
    dig — to the Wolof /deg/, “to understand, appreciate”

    At da Get-go God med da Gret Yonda an da earf

  96. Julie M. Smith
    April 21, 2006 at 6:09 pm

    m & m, OK, sorry. To me ‘simplified’ means ‘we took liberties with the original in order to make it easier to understand.’

  97. April 21, 2006 at 6:47 pm

    smb (#89): Seems to me higher criticism is a two-edged sword. True, it might shake members’ faith in the bible being God’s unaltered Word, but then can’t problems with the bible be viewed as testimony-builder for Mormons in that the Bible is correct “only inasmuch as it is translated correctly,” underscoring the need for another clarifying book of scripture? I guess I have a hard time understanding all the aversion in the church toward higher criticism. I think a lot of it isn’t terribly interesting or relevant for my own personal scripture study per se, but I don’t have anything against it either. Can anyone help me understand why there’s such an aversion to higher criticism, or is my sense of such an aversion wrong?

  98. Julie M. Smith
    April 21, 2006 at 7:01 pm

    “Can anyone help me understand why there’s such an aversion to higher criticism, or is my sense of such an aversion wrong?”

    I think that so much of the original thrust of higher criticism was tied up in a movement by scholars to rationally explain miracles, etc., that it got a bad reputation. Today, I think part of the aversion might be explained by the fact that the average Saint wants to believe that she isn’t missing anything; in other words, her lack of familiarity with academic biblical studies doesn’t hamper her ability to read or understand the text.

    What’s sad about this situation is that ‘higher criticism’ doesn’t even exist anymore but some Saints are still fighting phantoms; higher criticism has fragmented into (depending on how you count) at least a half dozen different types of criticism, some of which are basically useless to the Saints (form criticism) and some of which are incredibly useful and even ‘safe’ for Sunday School, such as various forms of literary criticism, most notably intertextual and intratextual readings.

  99. DavidH
    April 21, 2006 at 7:04 pm

    “Will the Savior be speaking KJ english at the second coming? Will his recorded words be published in King James english?”

    Yes, of course. As one of George W. Bush’s predecessor governors of Texas is reported to have said, “If the King’s English was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me!” (I think someone may have quoted this insightful observation already on another thread, but it bears repeating.)

    “[T]o seek for the spirit of prophecy [is] to understand them through the Spirit, not through someone’s simplified version of the approved translation we use.” “What I meant by simplified is ‘easier’ to understand.â€?

    While I agree that some portions of the scriptures may be intended by God to be challenging to understand without intense study and prayer, I believe He generally intends His words to be understood (even easily understood):

    “For my soul delighteth in plainness; for after this manner doth the Lord God work among the children of men. For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding.” 2 Ne 31:3.

    I fully agree with Scott Burton. It would seem ironic to honor those people who made such a great effort and sacrifices centuries ago to make the word of God much more accessible to common people in their understandable language, yet implicitly suggest that it is somehow less worthy to regularly use more understandable English translations today.

    That being said, it would be an enormous enterprise to shift to another translation Churchwide, and I would not expect it anytime soon.

  100. April 21, 2006 at 7:18 pm

    (If you’ll excuse a cross-posted comment.)

    I find that a parallel Bible is essential for reading much of the OT. The KJV translators just weren’t as good at Hebrew as they were with Greek. And ancient Hebrew was just not all that amenable to translation.

    Aside from the occasional translation errors, Hebrew idioms and King James English idioms can really throw me for a loop.

    My current favorite parallel Bible is Zondervan’s “Today’s Parallel Bible” that has the KJV, NIV, NLT, and NASB. ISBN: 0310918367, in hardback, $31.49 from Amazon including shipping.

    NIV = New International Version. Most of my “What does that mean?” questions about the KJV are answered here. This is probably the best modern English translation, and is easily the most popular and widely used. The NIV is mostly a word-for-word translation, but on rare occasions uses thought-for-thought when the idiom used loses its meaning in English.

    NLT = New Living Translation, a paraphrase, though now they call it a “thought for thought” translation. This version is a descendant of “The Living Bible” but a tighter/closer translation that doesn’t go as far afield as TLB did. I turn to this translation when I still don’t understand the imagery or idiom used in the NIV.

    NASB = New American Standard Bible. This translation is a descendant of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the 1950’s, and the American Standard Version (ASV) of 1901 which was the parent of the RSV.

  101. DKL
    April 21, 2006 at 8:26 pm

    Bookslinger, I agree with you that readers will get the most out of reading multiple translations with different approaches. (just a minor detail–the NASB was introduced as a direct child of the 1901 ASV and a competitor to the RSV, which was deemed to be not literal enough in its renderings [though the RSV and NRSV do generally preserve traditional renderings where possible].)

  102. April 21, 2006 at 8:37 pm

    My sense also is that the NASB is the most literal (word-for-word) translation of the main translations. I’d also second the recommendation for the NET translation b/c of the extensive translation notes (and it’s free on-line).

  103. Bookslinger
    April 21, 2006 at 10:30 pm

    DKL, thanks for the correction on the genealogy of the NASB. I think you’re right.

    In my scripture-collecting binge, I’ve amassed about 15 English translations of the Bible, and another 20 foreign language translations of the Bible, in addition to my 104 BoM translations.

    Amazon is usually the least-expensive, but for stuff they don’t have, I go to American Bible Society (ABS) and International Bible Society (IBS).

    Also, for those BYU instructors who are looking for inexpensive paperback NIV editions, International Bible Society sells them for $1.99/each (plus shipping) in cases of 24.

    I don’t know if it’s still going on, but ABS had a sale going on for 9 different translations in case quantities for $1.99/each.

  104. Bookslinger
    April 21, 2006 at 10:31 pm

    Oops, the URL for the American Bible Society is, not

  105. April 21, 2006 at 10:36 pm

    Hmm, my post seems to have gone into the vapor, though I posted links to the Net bible, including the Amazon version and the print one on their website. I think I’m going to buy one.

    The biggest problem with leaving the KJV behind is moving to one that everyone accepts. in English it is as close as it comes to an accepted “official” Bible.

  106. mullingandmusing (m&m)
    April 22, 2006 at 12:18 am

    m & m, OK, sorry. To me ’simplified’ means ‘we took liberties with the original in order to make it easier to understand.’

    Isn’t it possible that this could happen, too without an inspired translation of the KJV? (I’m obviously not an expert in these things…just wondering.)

  107. Julie M. Smith
    April 22, 2006 at 9:22 am

    m & m–

    First, note that some church leaders have taught that the KJV was NOT inspired. If I am reading you right, I think you are assuming that it WAS inspired. And maybe I am missing something, but the entire idea of an ‘inspired translation’ (unless Joseph Smith is doing it!) makes me nervous. In cases where there is more than one reasonable translation, I’d like to see the options enumerated in the notes (like the netbible) instead of relying on the inspiration of the translator(s) to make a choice. Only the prophet has the authority to offer authoritative interpretations of scripture. Unless the prophet were to translate, anyone else relying on inspiration to make decisions about translation options would be overstepping his or her authority.

  108. April 22, 2006 at 10:47 am

    Jule (#106): I agree with your point here, though I think it’s important to make a distinction between a translation that is inspired to get the doctrine correct vs. a translation that is inspired to get the original text correct. My sense is that the JST is more about the former and less about the latter. That is, when I read the JST I think of it essentially saying “if we make this change to the KJV, then the passage is teaching something that is true,” not “this is what Moses (or whoever) wrote in the original version of the scripture.”

  109. Blake
    April 22, 2006 at 11:27 am

    I want to go back to my suggestion that reading the KJV actually better preserves its truth and value for us than adopting a more modern translation. Reading modern translations we approach a text as if it is fully expressible in our language. Well, the Hebrew and Greek often are not so expressible. The translation is difficult — not mearly in various interpretations, but in grasping any meaning at all. Further, such translations suppose that the ancient world-view and pre-scientific assumptions can be translated into modern concepts — they cannot. When we speak of people who looked at the sky before there were telescopes, and who concluded that the stars were imbedded in a raqia or semi-transparent plate or stretched-expanse that held back the waters, and that when it rained there were windows or portals in this expanse opened to let the rain fall, we begin to see that modern translations bamboozle us into thinking we thought the same way because we can use the same words.

    The archaic and old language of the KJV constantly reminds us that the language of the “scriptures”, even in Christ’s time, was already very ancient and archaic. It is not of our present world. The terms used often have strange connotations and fit within a semantic field that has strange connotations and associations that we would never make.

    There is another reason as well. When I pray in Italian or German, I use the familiar form of “tu” or “du” that is even now almost lost in the modern forms of these venacluar languages. But I always prefer to use this familiar form of language to remind me that I have entered a different world of I-Thou relations where I am treading on sacred ground and unimaginable power and glory. I love the “Thou” form of address which we have lost except in the quaint and exalted Elizabethan language of the KJV (notwithstanding the arguments of GAs that it is a form of distancing).

    So there is a solution. Use th KJV and liberally cite and use other versions as well. Read various versions. My concern, one that I am almost certain would result, is that if we leave aside the KJV we will not return to its uncomfortable reminder that we don’t grasp as much as we think we do.

    So I agree with Julie that there is great value in making it easier with modern translations. There is greater value in the constant reminder that these writing are very old and come from a world that is not our own. So lets keep using the KJV and promote reading with our children in modern language versions. Lets read a lot and different versions often. Then lets learn Greek and Hebrew so that we don’t have these problems at all!

  110. mullingandmusing (m&m)
    April 22, 2006 at 11:57 am

    Amen, Blake!

  111. DKL
    April 22, 2006 at 12:42 pm

    Blake, the language of the King James is Jacobean (Jacobus is the Latin form of James).

    In the end, I think that the most compelling reason to switch is for missionary work. People that really want to understand the Bible read more than just the LDS edition of the scriptures anyway (as Bookslinger points out, a great place to start is a parallel Bible). As the rest of English-speaking Christianity moves further away from the KJV, potential members will find the KJV increasingly off-putting and strange.

  112. Justin
    April 22, 2006 at 1:03 pm

    Re #85 and #87, Talmage made a comment along these lines in 1916 (October):

    There are those who would juggle with the predictions of the Lord’s prophets. I read that in the last days one of the conditions preceding the return of the Christ to earth shall be the gathering of the Jews at their ancient capital, and in the land round about; and that another sign shall be the gathering of the people who have been scattered among the nations; and yet another shall be the bringing forth of the Lost Tribes from their hiding place, which is known to God, but unknown to man. Nevertheless, I have found elders in Israel who would tell me that the predictions relating to the Lost Tribes are to be explained in this figurative manner—that the gathering of those tribes is already well advanced and that there is no hiding place whereto God has led them, from which they shall come forth, led by their prophets to receive their blessings here at the hands of gathered Ephraim, the gathered portions that have been scattered among the nations. Yea, let God be true, and doubt we not his word, though it makes the opinions of men appear to be lies. The tribes shall come; they are not lost unto the Lord; they shall be brought forth as hath been predicted; and I say unto you there are those now living—aye, some here present—who shall live to read the records of the Lost Tribes of Israel, which shall be made one with the record of the Jews, or the Holy Bible, and the record of the Nephites, or the Book of Mormon, even as the Lord hath predicted; and those records, which the tribes lost to man but yet to be found again shall bring, shall tell of the visit of the resurrected Christ to them, after He had manifested Himself to the Nephites upon this continent.

  113. mullingandmusing (m&m)
    April 22, 2006 at 1:16 pm

    See Elder Hales’ talk from October 2005 conference. He’s the one who talked about Tynsdale acting under inspiration. I’m not saying the translation is flawless, but I think perhaps it’s the best one we have. (Again, I’m all for using supplementary translations to gain insights, but I also think the Church (and Church scholars) put out abundant materials to help the KJV not be so “sealed.” Why not encourage their use more as well?)

  114. April 22, 2006 at 1:42 pm

    Stephen M (Ethesis):
    According to a survey done by Zondervan, the NIV now has a 40.1% market share, compared to the KJV’s 22.4%. The New King James Version (NKJV) has a 12.8%, the NLT has 9%, Updated NASB has 4.2%, NIrV (New International Readers Version) has 3.4%.

    The above is taken from a Zondervan pamphlet I picked up at a Christian Bookstore, ISBN: 0-310-95683-8. And those are 2001 figures taken from “CBA Marketplace”.

    There is also a column on this comparison chart for Grade Reading Level.

    NIV = 7.8
    KJV = 12.0
    NKJV= 9.0
    NLT = 6.3
    Updated NASB = 11.0
    NIrV = 2.9
    NAB = 6.6 (New American Bible, a Catholic version)
    NRSV = 10.4
    CEV = 5.4 (Contemporary English Version. IMO, not bad.)
    ESV = 8.0 (English Standard Version.)

  115. DKL
    April 22, 2006 at 2:05 pm

    Thanks for the citation, Justin. IIRC, there was something different that Talmage said in a 1910 conference talk about the record being brought forth within the ensuing 100 years. If memory serves, I came across it when I was studying different takes that Mormon leaders had taken on Isaiah (probably chapter 29) while I was still attending BYU (this was the kind of thing I did on my spare time and the fact that the library closed at midnight was always pretty irritating). I wrote it in the notes that I was taking at the time, most of which are in (water damaged) boxes in the cellar. Anyway, I looked through them, but I couldn’t locate all of the Isaiah ones and did not find the reference to the Talmage quote that I remember.

  116. Julie M. Smith
    April 22, 2006 at 2:07 pm

    m & m,

    I wasn’t doubting that some church leaders have said the KJV was inspired; I was just pointing out that other leaders have said that it wasn’t inspired:

    President Brigham Young: “I believe the English Bible is translated as well as any book could be by uninspired men.” Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses (London: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1854–1886), 1:25.

    You also wrote, “Again, I’m all for using supplementary translations to gain insights, but I also think the Church (and Church scholars) put out abundant materials to help the KJV not be so “sealed.â€? Why not encourage their use more as well?”

    Well, because there really isn’t that much to use. I think the new seminary manuals are pretty good; I think the General Conference Scripture Citation Index is great, but I definitely wouldn’t call the materials produce by the Church or by the Saints “abundant.”

  117. Kimball L. Hunt
    April 22, 2006 at 2:14 pm

    Ideosyncratically fossilized conceptions and their expressions are often revered as elevatedly sacred while more current of ones are held to be common and profane. As “heavenly” immortal ideals, when these partake of temporality within legend and literature, take upon themselves elements of “earthly” evolution and change.

    The inspired author we take to be “Moses” collected the science of his times and expressed them in the famous words in which he initiates his (and now our) sacred text — having to do with the ongoing separation of order from chaos, light from darkness, matter in its variety of forms from out of the Deep. If in school this is called science while within the world’s religious literature or traditional tales passed generation to generation among indigenous people it’s revered as authoritative foundational tale of Creation, whatever are the underlying events being so described remain the same … Whether —

    In the beginning God created the Heaven and the earth

    Or whether —

    “In ‘de Get-go, God med ‘de Gret Yonda an’ ‘de earf”

    — as per the linguist Blain’s post in #82.

  118. Kimball L. Hunt
    April 22, 2006 at 6:22 pm

    Out of curiosity, how many interpret the 10th Article of Faith in the manner elder Talmage did? –and rather authoritatively.

  119. April 22, 2006 at 8:05 pm

    117 — Logos to yo mutha, bro.

  120. Kimball L. Hunt
    April 22, 2006 at 8:17 pm

    Word up

  121. Doug
    April 23, 2006 at 10:33 pm

    I agree with Mark Butler (#18) that the KJV has a tremendous beauty all its own. I realize that we want to make the word of God accessible, but often I fear that our society tries to dumb down everything. Personally, I think that we should expect more (and trust the abilitities) of ourselves as well as class members, church members etc.

    Many of the great English writers of the past 400 years were schooled on the KJV and Shakespeare. The literary “voice” of the KJV translators has influenced many great writers and speakers. I have heard that voice in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., Winston Churchill and President Hinckley. I just read the Net Bible versions of Isaiah 1:18 (“Come, let’s consider your options”) and 1 Cor. 13 (“…I am a noisy gong…”). It’s hard for me to think that God talks that way (or his hoary headed seers for that matter). The Doctrine and Covenants–while distinct in its voice–is an indication that God does not talk to his people in super- literal, and hyper-simplistic langauge. There is no question that the doctrine in the Net Bible is as clear and concise as any well written Automotive Manual. But it does not stir me like the KJV! At their worst, some “modern” translations passages paraody the beautiful KJV langauge.

    We need a little poetry–sometimes words that are hard to understand pay greater dividends when through our efforts we finally “get” the meaning.

  122. mullingandmusing
    April 24, 2006 at 12:38 am

    Julie, I found the old Institute manuals quite helpful as well.
    Maybe the word abundant was a little overstated, but I still think we have some good resources available to us. And I would much rather have someone who has the gospel glasses on interpreting the KJV than just any old “newer” translation.

  123. April 24, 2006 at 3:45 am

    121 — I love the KJV also. That’s really not the point. The KJV won’t be going away anytime soon, and anybody who wants to read it can. What’s being suggested isn’t an abandonment nor a rejection of the KJV. Rather, what is sought is a recognition that the KJV is very difficult for many to read who have not been raised reading it, and even those who have been raised reading it have a difficult time understanding it. I don’t mind the beauty and poetry of the language, but that’s certainly doable in a more current dialect of English.

    I still hold to my alternative suggestion — that we actually teach people how to use the older English accurately.

  124. Mark Pickering
    April 24, 2006 at 4:40 pm

    I recently discovered that there is a whole literature among Bible Fundamentalists arguing for or against the King James Version as the best Bible. Consider _One Bible Only?_. I have only read the pages you can see on Amazon, but I read the funniest thing I have seen in years there. Apparently, some of these Fundamentalists believe that the King James Version is more inspired than the original or translations into other languages.

  125. Mark Butler
    April 24, 2006 at 5:39 pm

    “…as clear and concise as any well written automotive manual”

    Well spoken, Doug. It remains to be seen if any modern translation can preserve the beauty of the KJV without duplicating the wording. So far there is not a lot of evidence anyone has even tried.

  126. Eve
    April 24, 2006 at 11:41 pm

    I’m sympathetic to both sides of this discussion. I remember mentioning, in passing, to a priesthood leader that I was consulting (not even using in class) the NRSV in my preparation to teach Sunday school. He disapproved. Until that encounter I hadn’t thought of what I was doing as controversial.

    One of the best books I’ve read in years is Adam Nicolson’s _God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible_. It’s fascinating and beautifully written. Toward the end, Nicolson makes his case that more modern translations have lost the KJV’s majesty. Even if you don’t agree, he’s a gorgeous writer, and he makes the religious and political controversies of the age vivid and immediate. I adore this book so much that even now almost it persuadeth me to be an English Renaissance/early modern scholar.

  127. April 25, 2006 at 12:05 am

    I enjoy the KJV for the New Testament. But it wasn’t until my current reading through the OT, in Psalms, Proverbs, and Isaiah particularly, that I realized that the KJV is just translated poorly in some parts.

    One of the first things the local CES director taught his OT Institute class was to go through the OT, and highlight all the “HEB” “IE” and “OR” footnotes and the reference above, (and “GR” in the New Testament).

    While doing so, and then referencing the NIV, I found out the LDS footnotes in those instances have much overlap with the NIV.

    I found a few instances where the KJV is just unintelligible in certain OT passages, (such as Psalms and Isaiah) and then the NIV, the NLT, and the NASB all agree and make sense. It some passages, it’s not just a matter of learning to understand the King James (or Jacobean) English, it’s that the KJV translation is just plain wrong in those places.

  128. Brian L
    April 25, 2006 at 12:13 am

    I took Brother Wayment’s New Testament class last semester at BYU and he was plugging for looking at other versions of the NT, and he plugged a little bit for his book on the JST

  129. April 25, 2006 at 11:55 am

    Bookslinger: I’m picking a nit, or perhaps I’m trying to unpick it, but to my understanding this business that appears in some of the responses of describing the King James version of the Bible as Jacobean rather than Elizabethan English (or vice-versa) is silly. The KJV was, of course compiled during the reign of James, so it can properly be referred to as Jacobean if we mean “something produced under the reign of James.” However, since the “translators” were specifically instructed to follow the Bishops’ Bible (a revision of Whittingham’s translation) as far as possible and also to use the translations of Tyndale, Matthew, and Coverdale, it may be more accurate to describe the KJV as a revision rather than a new translation. So, a large portion of the language of the KJV comes from those earilier translations, and some of the most important ones, e.g., Tyndale’s, is Elizabethan. As a result, the language isn’t, strictly speaking, that typical of the reign of any particular monarch, Elisabeth, James, or someone else (though I doubt that there were huge changes to English between the reign of Elisabeth and that of James). It doesn’t really make much difference whether we call the language of the KJV Elisabethan or Jacobean, but “early modern English” is probably the best description.

  130. g.wesley
    April 25, 2006 at 12:07 pm

    nice clarification

  131. Kevin Barney
    April 25, 2006 at 12:22 pm

    On the Simpsons Sunday night, they were doing a story in which Homer is escaping from the law and jumps a Puritan ship bound from England to America. The men in uniform chasing him (played by Lenny and Carl) recite the charge against him as “Questioning that we live in the Jacobean era when the king’s name is James, not Jacob.”

    Now that is highbrow humor!

  132. April 25, 2006 at 2:26 pm

    You have to be an adult to get most of the humor on The Simpsons. And you have to either be Matt Groening’s age, or a good student of modern/recent history, to get all of it.

    Jim F: good points.

    The _full_ preface to the King James Version can be found here:

    Those who hold the KJV to be inerrent should study that preface.

    All: What level authority do we give to the “OR” “IE” “GR” and “HEB” footnotes in the LDS edition of the KJV Bible?

    If the LDS footnote for a problematic passage gives an alternate translation that differs from 4 of the main modern translations, to which would you give credence?

  133. April 25, 2006 at 6:38 pm

    Those footnotes were made by reasonably qualified professors, mostly but not only from BYU. So I would give them the authority I would give a BYU Old Testament or New Testament professor who has advanced degrees in a relevant area.

    I don’t think there is any straightforward answer to the question of which translation to give credence to, one of the 4 main modern translations or the translation in the footnotes. Do you know of a case in which there is a major discrepancy between the footnotes and the other translations? That is possible, but I would be surprised.

  134. April 25, 2006 at 11:20 pm

    Jim, Yes, I’ve come across some passages where the footnotes’ alternate translations differed from the NIV/NLT/NASB translation, and where the NIV/NLT/NASB were in agreement. I started making comparisons in Psalms, and have found some there and in Isaiah. I didn’t make many notes on those, but Isaiah 19:10 is one example.

    More frequent are those cases where the LDS footnotes are silent, but the NIV/NLT/NASB make a different translation than the KJV text, and provide much clearer meaning. An example here would be the meaning of “wine on the lees” in Isaiah 25:6.

    My order of referral is usually KJV(LDS) -> NIV -> NASB -> NLT, because those last 3 are in my parallel Bible.

    If NIV/NASB/NLT are not in agreement, and I’m still curious, then I sometimes check the Amplified Bible, the older Jerusalem Bible (circa 1971?). And then maybe the CEV, RSV, and ESV.

    I just recently purchased the JST. That’s an interesting book, because it just has the changes, not the verses that remain the same.

  135. Julie M. Smith
    April 25, 2006 at 11:34 pm

    Bookslinger, you might enjoy the interlinear bible at, because it will allow you to click on almost any word from the KJV and see a Hebrew lexicon entry for it. It would help you when the English translations differ.

  136. April 26, 2006 at 12:16 am

    Bookslinger: Isaiah 19:10 is, indeed, a good example. Touche! I have no explanation for the footnote in the LDS edition.

    I agree with you, however, that it would be nice if the LDS edition provided more help with meanings, not only in Isaiah but throughout. I don’t think that “wine on the lees” (KJV) is so different from “aged wine” (NIV) or “choice wines” (NAB), but the meaning of the KJV is far from obvious. A little help would be nice.

    Personally, I like the New American Bible (NAB) a lot.

  137. DKL
    April 26, 2006 at 1:00 am

    Jim F, going back to picking the nit, but the King James Bible is pretty much anything but Elizabethan English.

    All of the bibles before the Bishop’s bible are most accurately characterized as Tudor English. Since the Tyndale Bibles, the Mathew, and the Coverdale Bibles were all published during the reign of Henry VIII. The Old Testament of the Geneva Bible was published 2 years into Elizabeth’s reign (the Geneva New Testament having been published when Mary I was still on the throne) and is still best categorized as Tudor.

    The Bishop’s Bible was completed at the outset of Elizabeth’s reign, and is a terrible translation–almost nobody used it at the time, and nobody has used it since. The only sense in which the KJV can be said to be a “revision” of it, is that the same sponsoring body (the Church of England) elected to replace the Bishop’s Bible with the KJV, but they did so in order to displace the Geneva Bible rather than to address any specific inadequacy of the Bishop’s bible.

    So aside from that and the Geneva Old Testament which was wrapped up just as Elizabeth’s reign was getting under way, Elizabeth’s reign was remarkably free from Bible translations. And the KJV does reflect the linguistic standards of King James’ day and is properly labeled as such. It only representing those standards associated with Tudor English insofar as they overlapped with Jacobean English. There is, of course, considerable overlap among Tudor, Elizabethan, and Jacobean English–but there is almost no ground at all for claiming that the KJV is Elizabethan English.

  138. April 26, 2006 at 10:37 am

    DKL: (1) I think you make too much of the differences in English from Henry, through Elisabeth, to James. (2) I’ve not argued that the KJV should best be described as Elisabethan. (3) As I understand it, the objections to the Bishops’ bible were primarily political rather than linguistic.

  139. DKL
    April 26, 2006 at 4:40 pm

    Fair enough, Jim. I only bring it up because people tend to think that the age of the language is relevant to its quality.

    Of course, the most famous examples of linguistic uses from the era going from Henry to James are from the Elizabethan era and are arguably some of the best in any language. As you know, there are examples of Elizabethan English that are as bad anything written anywhere (Greatness comes and goes but abominations accumulate), but Shakespeare tends to give Elizabethan English a kind of brand equity that (say) early Colonial American English or even Victorian English do not have.

    The neophilia and neophobia are two sides of the same coin, both being forms of temporal provincialism. There is a strong tendency to exalt the rather consistently bad English of the King James Bible mostly because it’s archaic and partly because it does have occasionally lucid moments. My point in railing against the term Elizabethan in connection with the KJV is that it’s seems to me that it is most often used to try exalt the (rather consistently bad) language of the KJV as Majestic and somehow Shakespearian by association. There’s even a conspiracy theory that alleges Shakespeare’s collusion with the at least one translation committee.

  140. April 26, 2006 at 4:49 pm

    DKL: Shakespeare tends to give Elizabethan English a kind of brand equity that (say) early Colonial American English or even Victorian English do not have.

    Good point. It is as if the fact that Shakespeare wrote great English means that anything written during his time was great, when one of the reasons that Shakespeare’s language is great is that it stands out so much from what surrounds it.

    Whether the English in the KJV is consistently rather than occasionally bad is something we could argue about, but I’m not up to it right now. Suffice it to say that I don’t agree. I think the language is often remarkably good and generally very good, though there are places where it is just awful, whether as translation or as original.

  141. April 26, 2006 at 10:31 pm

    According to a survey done by Zondervan, the NIV now has a 40.1% market share, compared to the KJV’s 22.4%. The New King James Version (NKJV) has a 12.8%, the NLT has 9%, Updated NASB has 4.2%, NIrV (New International Readers Version) has 3.4%.

    Yes, the NIV continues to grow in market share, though people who have an opinion on authority still seem to hold to the KJV. It is an interesting shift, and one you will note in Talmage’s works (he liked the NIV in spots, was unhappy in others). Regardless of what people buy, almost everyone respects the KJV.

    I’ve ordered a NET Bible and am waiting for it to show up.

    The LDS Bible’s original draft had over two thirds of the footnotes cut before publication, just FYI.

    Anyway, I’ve enjoyed this thread.

  142. Doug
    April 27, 2006 at 5:08 pm

    “Almost it persuadeth me”

    What more do we need then those four beautiful words to shift the dominant weight of our sympathies (even if we still have sympathies for both sides) to the KJV side!

    I will admit that when taking lit classes in college, modern translations of old non-English writers were much easier to understand then those in older, archaic English. But for me the issue is not just one of translation–its one of style. There are other great works beside the KJV from former eras that we could “retranslate” into contemporary English. To do so in order to discard the originals would be unfortunate. While I realize that the KJV is not an “original” in the translation sense (and that it has its faults) when viewed in the context of English classics, it IS itself an original.

  143. Ben S.
    April 27, 2006 at 6:20 pm

    “Talmage’s works (he liked the NIV in spots, was unhappy in others).”

    I believe Talmage died in 1933 and the NIV first appeared in 1973.

    Presumably you meant someone else, or a different version?

  144. April 27, 2006 at 7:50 pm

    Stephen (#141): You wouldn’t happen to know where one could pick up the scraps of those discarded footnotes do you?!….

  145. Ben S.
    May 21, 2006 at 5:20 pm

    Bible Review has a Bible Buyer’s Guide of sorts available here

  146. Mark Butler
    May 21, 2006 at 6:49 pm

    I think a more relevant document (because it is not a translation) for evaluating the merit of Jacobean English is the Westminster Confession of Faith.
    I happen to like it (and formal language in general), and think we can learn much from such precise usage, but I can see why people could think it is unnecessarily stuffy.

    Here are a couple of examples:

    From chapter 1:

    Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which makes the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.”

    From chapter 3:

    I. God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

    II. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions; yet has He not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.

    III. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death.

    IV. These angels and men, thus predestinated, and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished.

    V. Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, has chosen, in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving Him thereunto; nd all to the praise of His glorious grace.

    VI. As God has appointed the elect unto glory, so has He, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto. herefore, they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power, through faith, unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.

    VII. The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will, whereby He extends or withholds mercy, as He pleases, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by; and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praised of His glorious justice.

    This precision ultimately derives from theological Latin and Greek – where a word like foreordain carries a rather more certain semantic than we use today, as you can see. This is the Reformed language and context of the KJV and you can see it reflected in the translation of various scriptures, especially those that derive from original Greek rather than original Hebrew.

Comments are closed.