I enjoyed reading Prof. Ronald Cammenga’s article, “‘What Saith the Scripture:’ The Bible’s Perspicuity” in the December 1, 2017 issue of the Standard Bearer.
However, after reading it, it did raise a question for me. If Wycliffe, Tyndale, and others worked so hard and even risked their lives to give the English people an updated, understandable English Bible, why do all the writers in the Standard Bearer quote Scripture from a four-hundred-year-old (KJV) version of the Bible when we have several updated versions available? It reminds me of the Amish, who continually use live horsepower for work and travel when modern automobiles and tractors are more efficient. I would appreciate an answer.
Herman Vander Vos,
Thanks for your letter, which gives me a good opportunity to explain briefly a practice and principle in the life of the PRCA. Your question, in light of my article(s) on the Bible’s perspicuity, asks for an explanation of the use of the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible by all the writers in the Standard Bearer. You correctly observe the consistent use of the KJV by the different writers. This is true because the ministers in the PRCA use the KJV in all the aspects of their work in the ministry: leading of worship, catechism, pastoral counseling, sick visiting, Bible study societies, and other meetings of the church. The official Bible version of which we make use is, in all our congregations, the KJV. This is also true in our Protestant Reformed Christian schools and in the vast majority of our homes and families. This is not because of an Amish sort of mindset, as you suggest. It is not due to the fact that this is the version we have always used or because we are opposed to any and all change. It is not due to the viewpoint that change is necessarily wrong, and that change is always departure. We continue to make use of the KJV out of the collective conviction that it remains the best translation of the Bible available in the English language. Let me assure you, dear brother, that if a better and equally as faithful translation became available, the PRCA would seriously consider using it in place of the KJV. I might also point out that the PRCA were invited to participate in the early meetings that eventually produced the New International Version (NIV). We sent representatives to those meetings. But when it became plain that the majority were committed to the theory of dynamic equivalence, we could no longer in good conscience participate in the project. Later, it also became clear that some of those involved in the translation of the NIV were not committed to a consistent view of verbal inspiration. This indicates, however, that we are not in principle opposed to a new and improved English translation of the Bible.
One of the reasons on account of which we use the KJV is exactly the issue of perspicuity. Some admittedly archaic words and language aside, the KJV is a very readable and easily understood Bible translation. Every comparative test that I have seen indicates that the KJV is as readable and understandable as any of the modern English versions and, in many cases, is proven to be more easily understood. One factor, in this connection, is a higher percentage in the KJV of words of one or two syllables, as compared with many modern versions that make use of more words with multiple syllables. You can search the Internet for a number of these comparative studies. Just Google: “Reading level of the King James Bible.”
An additional factor is that the cadence and language of the KJV are judged by many experts to be much more easily memorized than so many of the other modern English versions. We find this to be true among ourselves, in our homes and schools. We not only want a Bible that we can easily read and understand; we also want a Bible that is easily memorized. The KJV is such a Bible, and the ease with which our children and grandchildren commit passages out of it to memory is clear evidence of this important advantage of the KJV.
The most important issue, however, is the faithfulness of the KJV to the original text of Scripture. That is the main issue that must decide this question. The PRCA judge the KJV to be the most faithful English translation available today. We are also of the conviction that the manuscripts from which the KJV was translated (the Majority Text), represent manuscripts that are more faithful to the Hebrew and Greek originals than the manuscripts that are the basis for many of the modern versions. On this matter, I recommend that you consult the website for the Trinitarian Bible Society. They have a wealth of material available on this and other aspects of Bible translation and the value of the KJV. Or you may contact the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary and we will send you a number of pamphlets produced by PRCA pastors addressing the matter of Bible translation and defending the use of the KJV. Or, if it is easier for you, you may find them on the PRCA website—prca.org.
There are, of course, words and expressions that are puzzling to folks growing up in and living in the twenty-first century: assay, bewray, bruit, carriage (baggage), haply, contemn, meat (food), scrip, shambles, strait, trow, wot. Language changes; words drop out of use and new words are added to the dictionary every year. But with these archaic words and expressions, it is really a very simple matter: Look them up! We have a multitude of Bible study helps available today—make use of them. And almost everyone has a smart phone in their pocket or purse with easy access to the Internet. Take just a minute and learn a new word and expand your own vocabulary. That is a good thing. And besides, usually the context is sufficient to give a fairly good indication of the meaning of most of these words.
We do not intend to be “old fashioned.” But neither are we ready to give up our beloved KJV, which has served God’s church for so many generations, so long as we judge it to be the best available English translation. When we compare the KJV to the other English Bible translations, for most of us there is no comparison. Maybe an alternative English translation will come along some day, but for the time being we favor the continued use of the KJV.
Cordially in Christ,
Prof. Ronald Cammenga