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Many have gone over to the new Bibles without realizing that much, much more is involved than the question of modern English. The entire fabric has been affected! The underlying text is substantially different. The philosophy and methodology of the translators is in marked contrast to that of the Authorized Version. The English of the new versions is assumed at first to be "easier," but whether it is actually more readable, authoritative, and conducive to meditation, study, and memorization is quite another matter.
From 1611 until recently there was really only one Bible in the English speaking world. The AV became the Standard in that empire upon which the sun never set, and in that language which is the primary vehicle of international discourse. It penetrated the world's continents and brought multitudes to saving faith in Christ. It became the impetus of the great missionary movements. Through it men and women heard the call to world evangelization. It was the source of the greatest revivals since the days of the Apostles. Street preachers, colporters, church planters, Sunday School teachers, and tract distributors took the King James Bible into teeming cities and across country lanes. It was the high water mark in the history of the Gospel's spread. But sadly, we all have a tendency to put aside the good and substitute something of lesser quality. And so, during the 19th century the call for a revised Bible began to be heard. For the most part - at least in the beginning - the call did not come from fervent Bible believers, but rather from those who were leaning toward theological liberalism. These were men who often felt comfortable with German rationalism, Darwin and the back-to-Rome movement.
The first major revision was published in 1881. After the initial excitement there was little public support. The same response greeted the American (ASV) edition in 1901. Others followed: Weymouth, Williams, Moffat, Beck, Goodspeed, Twentieth Century, but still with little impact. But then in 1952 came the Revised Standard Version, produced with the backing of the liberal National Council of Churches in the U.S.A. The pace now quickened; public acceptance began to rise. Others followed: The New English, Amplified, Berkley, Phillips, Wuest, Living, New American, Good News, Jerusalem, New International, New King James. Each came with the promise that it was based on the earliest manuscripts and the latest scholarship, and that God's Word would now be more easily understood.
Taking up this last point, it is interesting to see the names given to a number of twentieth century versions: Authentic New Testament, The N.T. in Plain English, the N.T. in Basic English, The Simplified N.T. in Plain English for Today's Reader, Inspired Letters of the N.T. in Clearest English! And then a number of the revisions have been revised: The New Revised Standard Version, the New Berkeley Version, The New (that's right!) Jerusalem Bible. There have been at least seventy modern Bibles published this century.
Now, frankly, after seventy attempts to replace the Authorized Version, one cannot help wonder whether God wants it replaced! This conviction is strengthened when we note that believers do not seem to study the modern versions as they once did the AV. They are not marked up and study worn. Passages are seldom memorized. Preachers do not quote verses from the NIV in the pulpit as they once did the AV. Nor is expository preaching and doctrinal study emphasized as it once was. What is more, the issue of authority has been undermined. "What does the Bible say," has been replaced by an anaemic, "How does this version render the passage." And then, is it a coincidence that this multiplication of versions comes at the same time as the tongues, prophecies, and extra-biblical revelations of the charismatic movement? Thus, it may be rightly asked, where are we to go to hear God's Word today?
Relatively few words in the King James Version would fall into the category of "Old English." This is not nearly so great a problem as is claimed. It is doubtful that more than twenty words would cause a problem, and here the dictionary will quickly give the meaning. It seems strange that, with the great increase of knowledge, people should have trouble with the "Thee's" and "Thou's" of the Authorized Version.
Of course, the great "problem" with the Bible is the fact that it is the Bible! It cannot be read like other books. Unless the Author is known by personal faith in the finished Work of Jesus Christ on the Cross it will not be understood or appreciated. No amount of translational skill or modern English idiom can cross that divide. It must be read with a submissive heart to God.
The following is intended to show that whatever help a modern version may seem at first to give in updating the language, the price paid in missing words, phrases, verses, lack of reverence and doctrinal perspicuity, readability, and the almost certain re-introduction of an ancient heresy, is simply too great.
The Modern Bibles have several basic characteristics.
What is said about one can usually be said about another. As the New International
Version is the current bestseller, we will use it as a representative of
the others in comparisons with the King James Version.