Anniversaries are a part of life. On any given day, people across the globe are celebrating anniversaries—of weddings, birthdays, inventions, victories, reformations, and so forth. People remember past events for a variety of reasons.
For the church, anniversaries can be profitable. They can be. Commemorative events are not profitable if the church hypocritically garnishes the tombs of the prophets, so to speak, when high praises are sung by men and women who reject the teaching of the prophets.
An anniversary celebration is profitable if it serves to remind us of the works of God! A wedding anniversary celebration that consists merely of retelling family favorites and foibles may be enjoyable for the family, but it has no lasting value. On the other hand, a wedding anniversary celebration that calls attention to God’s faithfulness, that speaks of His grace and love that supported Dad and Mom, of His grace and wisdom displayed in their marriage, so that children were reared in the fear of the Lord by word and example—that commemoration is profitable. There God is honored. His people remember His works, thank Him, and ask for continued blessing.
The year 2011 is the anniversary of a significant event for English-speaking believers, namely, the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible in England. Its name is taken from the man who authorized the new translation—James I, king of England. Because he officially authorized it, it goes also by the name Authorized Version (AV).
New translations rarely gain universal acceptance. The KJV was no exception. The Puritans of that day were not impressed with this translation; many refused to use it. They had rather good reasons to question the King’s motives and his orthodoxy.
There were controversies over language and specific translations. It may seem ironic to us, that some objected strenuously over the use of thee and thou with reference to God! Those pronouns were for men, they contended. The plural, you and your, were terms of respect, indicating an exalted position. The King of England expected his subjects to refer to him not with Thee, or Thy Majesty, but rather with You, and Your Highness, and Your Majesty. If the plural pronoun was applied to the King of England, so it was argued, how much more should it have been used in the new translation for God.
Nonetheless, the KJV weathered the controversies, and eventually won the hearts of the great majority of English-speaking believers. This AV gained its place of honor in the home, the schools, and the pulpit. Deservedly so.
The Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary, convinced of the continuing value of the KJV, is planning a conference this fall with the theme 1611-2011: Celebrating the 400th Anniversary of the King James Version.
Let it be clear that this celebration is not merely over the publication of a translation as such—the work of men. The cause for thanks is God’s provision of His Word in the language of the people. The joy is rooted in our high view of the Bible as God’s Word. The spiritual reverence has a solid theological foundation. We confess the Bible to be the infallibly inspired Word of God. Not the product of men. Not the word of God and the word of men. Not the result of God’s revealing Himself, and men then doing their best to capture it in words. Rather, the Bible is God’s inspired Word. So much so, that the very words that God wanted written, those very words Moses, Jeremiah, Matthew, John, and Paul wrote.
Since the Bible is the very Word of God, translation of the Bible is crucially important. God spoke. The writers wrote. They wrote in the language of the church of their day—Hebrew for Israel, and Greek for the New Testament church. God’s revelation of Himself is clearly and accurately written down in human words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs. God intended that His people possess this infallible Word to the end of time, for the sake of preaching, as well as for personal edification. But, since Babel resulted in a multitude of tongues, the Bible must needs be translated from the original languages (Hebrew and Greek) into the language of the people.
This is a major principle of the sixteenth-century Reformation.
Rome had, and still has, a wrong theology and practice with regard to Scripture. First, in the Middle Ages, Rome incorrectly decreed that the Latin Vulgate was the authoritative, inspired version. Theologians were not encouraged to study Hebrew and Greek. They were instructed to work from the church-approved Latin translation.
More importantly, their theological error was that the Bible was not the ultimate authority for faith and life. The Romish Church, paying lip service to the authority of the Bible, undermined it in several ways. First, the Church elevated something known as the oral tradition. This began as apostolic instruction not written in Scripture but given by the apostles orally. Supposedly, this body of knowledge was passed down from the apostles to the popes in succession. Gradually it included also papal dictums and decisions of church councils. This had equal authority with the Bible. In addition, the Church, headed by an “infallible” pope, had authority higher than that of the Bible. For, Rome argued, the Church not only set the canon (chose the books that belonged in the Bible), the Church also interpreted the Bible.
Since the Church was, for all practical purposes, the authority, that means first, that the matter of translating the Bible carefully into the language of the people was not important for Rome.
But there is another deadly error in Rome concerning Scripture, namely the denial of the office of believer. Rome contended that the believer could not interpret the Bible—only those in the teaching offices of the Church could. If the people tried to do that, it would result in questions, errors, and troubles in the Church. At times, Rome actually forbade the people to read the Bible, and Rome persecuted and killed those who translated the Bible, or even owned one.
The Reformation turned all of this on its head. Sola Scriptura! The Bible is the only authority for faith and life. It is supreme over priests, bishops, popes, and councils!
Besides, Luther insisted, every believer has an office. In that office every believer has the Spirit, and thus has the authority and ability to search the Scriptures, comparing Scripture with Scripture, and by this to know the truth. God speaks to each believer in and through His written Word.
But for this to happen, the believer must have the Bible in his own language! And that translation must be accurate.
The Reformation restored the Bible to the people.
The KJV is part of that history, that heritage. It is the Reformation principle put into practice.
Yet the question begs to be answered, Why the KJV? Why a conference on this version of the Bible?
First, we point out the negative, that is, what our celebration is not implying. We are not maintaining that the KJV is the only “real” Bible in the English language, and that all other versions are false Bibles. Nor will we be affirming the notion that the KJV is an inspired translation. Such does not exist.
That needs some explanation. When we maintain that the Bible is infallibly inspired, word for word and in all its parts, we refer to Genesis, as Moses wrote it; to Acts, as Luke wrote it; and to Revelation, as John penned it. Word for word, they are the God-inspired Scriptures.
As soon as one speaks of a translation, he must use different terms. Paul was infallibly inspired as he wrote his epistle to the Ephesians. However, no translation of Paul’s epistle is an infallible translation. The words Paul wrote were exactly the words the Spirit intended. No translator is similarly moved by the Spirit so that he could claim that the words he used were the exact words the Spirit gave him infallibly.
Anyone who studies a foreign language knows the difficulty of translating from one language to another. The translator struggles to be faithful to the original language—to convey the words, the thought, the meaning accurately. This is hard work, and judgments constantly must be made as to the best word, and the proper phrasing.
There is no such thing as an inspired translation, an infallible translation. Nonetheless, the question must be faced as to whether a translation is faithful to the original language or not. Clearly, one translation can be more faithful to the original than another.
In fact, the first and most important characteristic of a good translation is faithfulness to the original. The translation that is not characterized by faithfulness must be rejected. The conference celebrating the KJV will demonstrate how God providentially gave to the English-speaking portion of His church a faithful translation of the Bible.
Second, the language of a translation must be fitting. It is, after all, the Word of God—the divine Word in human speech. It conveys to us infinite, eternal, glorious, heavenly truths—about God, His Son, salvation, the church, the new heavens and earth. Thus the language to convey that to the English reader must be fitting and appropriate. We are convinced that the language of the KJV is proper language, conveying awe and reverence. It is eminently suited to worship, for singing praises to God, for confession, and for preaching.
Third, a good translation ought to be characterized by beauty. It is particularly difficult, in the work of translating, to bring out the beauty of the original. Translations can be choppy, wooden, and colorless, and thus difficult and even unpleasant to read. On this matter, there will be differences of opinion according to personal taste. At the same time, there are classics in literature that virtually all scholars agree are quality literature. The KJV is one such work. It is a recognized, acknowledged work of superior style. It is studied in university classes as good literature. As Martin Luther’s translation shaped the German language, so has the KJV shaped the English language.
With that high view of this English translation of God’s Word, we will come together to celebrate 400 years with the KJV. You, dear reader, are cordially invited to join us. You will have several opportunities, the Lord willing. Plans are to hold the seminary conference September 16 and 17 (Friday night and Saturday morning) in the church building of the Byron Center Christian Reformed Church (the site of the Calvin Conference in 2009). Prior to that, these speeches will be delivered at an officebearers’ conference in Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, IL. That is scheduled for September 6, and all are welcome to attend. Finally, plans are being made to hold a conference in NW Iowa in October. More details will be forthcoming.
I am convinced that attendance will be profitable. You will have opportunity to learn something of the history—the marvelous providence of God that produced the KJV. Direct comparisons will be presented between the KJV and modern English translations. And attendees will learn the continued significance and use of the KJV in the church today.
Above all, come to thank God for His marvelous gift—His Word in our language.