KJV 400: Celebrating the Life and Legacy of the King James Version of the Bible
- Monday, January 10, 2011
An Accessible Translation
Can you imagine an era when the Bible was quarantined from commoners? Today, many have access to the Bible via computers, phones and other mobile devices. The accessibility of Scripture makes the image of Bible-less church-goers almost incomprehensible. Yet this was the case prior to 1611. The KJV, coupled with Guttenberg's printing press, provided English speakers access to the Bible. In the years following 1611, English speakers could hold and handle their own copy of Scripture.
Contemporary preachers should be cautious not to dilute the legacy of accessibility handed down by the KJV. In the contemporary cult of personality, the temptation exists for preachers to present themselves as ultimate authorities on all things biblical. Certainly pastors should possess knowledge of Scripture. However, they do not need to convey such knowledge as if it is unattainable to non-clergy.
I occasionally have heard compliments from well-meaning members of my congregation. "I never could see things in Scripture the way you do." Initially that compliment stroked my ego, but eventually I recognized the inherent danger. If my preaching method taught them they could not understand Scripture on their own, then how did my preaching differ from Roman Catholics and English priests droning in Latin? Instead of seeking to baffle the congregation with my knowledge of Scripture, my sermons should help people understand Scripture and encourage them to study the Word for themselves.
The KJV translators also made the 1611 Bible accessible with their choice of language. Research reveals that the familiar "thees" and "thous" of the KJV actually harkened back to English usage that predated the production of the KJV. Rather than attempting to translate the Bible into trendy, cutting-edge language, KJV translators incorporated familiar, comfortable terms. Many contemporary preachers unintentionally hinder rather than help their listeners access the Word of God by using the language of Zion without appropriate translation in terms today's listeners will understand. I recall a time when I needed a gentle warning against this temptation.
One Wednesday night, I had led the youth Bible study at our church. After services, my wife commented on the lesson. "Your education is showing a little too much." My wife always encourages me in my teaching ministry and only offers critical analysis at appropriate times. I considered her comment. I was to complete my seminary studies a few months later, and I had spent a great many hours reading about such fascinating topics as supralapsarianism and antinomianism. The majority of the students in our youth group could not pronounce much less understand those concepts. My wife's gentle rebuke reminded me to consider the audience when selecting my words.
Since that Wednesday night many years ago, I always have sought to place my sermons on a shelf that listeners can reach. A product placed on the top row at a grocery store would be inaccessible to someone unable to reach the shelf. In the same way, the preacher who uses impressive vocabulary or heady concepts runs the risk of making his or her message inaccessible.
That is not to imply the preacher should dumb down the message. Instead, the preacher should explain the message in terms and concepts the listener can understand. Jesus modeled this method of communication. He consistently spoke in agricultural terms that resonated with His listeners. Likewise, contemporary preaching must speak to the hearts and minds of listeners in language they readily can understand.
As we celebrate the quadricentennial of the KJV, we should treat the elder statesman of English translations with respect, celebrating the far-reaching impact of this historic translation. We also should learn from the KJV's enduring legacy. Pastors maintain the vital tension between accuracy and accessibility. Make certain your sermons faithfully bridge the gap between Word and world. If we make sure our sermons are accessible and accurate, then we can stand firm on the authority of the King!
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