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Mark Ward

Reviewed by: Calvin R. Goligher 

Response by: Christian M. McShaffrey

Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible, by Mark Ward. Lexham, 2018. Paperback, 168 pages, $10.39 (Amazon). Reviewed by OP pastor Calvin R. Goligher. 

Mark Ward’s book on the use and misuse of the King James Bible is the most fun you will ever have reading about Bible translations. More importantly, though, Ward’s book persuasively and charitably presses an important argument: that, in our present context, the King James Bible is no longer a vernacular translation, and therefore churches ought not to use it as their primary Bible translation. It is not that Ward despises the King James Bible. He grew up with it, and he recognizes the benefits of its prominence in the English-speaking world. Ward insists that, those advantages notwithstanding, the Bible ought to be translated into the common language of the common people. The Bible, especially Paul in 1 Corinthians 14, the Protestant Reformers, and the translators of the King James Bible themselves shared this conviction. His point is that, owing to the enormous changes in the English language over four centuries, the King James Bible no longer fulfills this ambition.

Ward provides many detailed examples of how the King James Bible falls short of a vernacular translation. The most important issue is what he calls “false friends.” These are “words that are still in common use but have changed meaning in ways that modern readers are highly unlikely to recognize” (31). We need to look these words up, too, but—and this is the crucial point—we will not usually know that we need to look them up. To mention just one example: how should we obey Paul’s instruction in Romans 12:7 to “wait on our ministering”? A modern English speaker might assume that Paul wants us to “pause before starting to serve.” In fact, Paul wants us to “carefully attend to our serving,” which is exactly the meaning of the phrase “wait on” that was current when the King James Bible was first published (40).

Ward does an especially good job of interacting charitably and frankly with proponents of the King James Version. He thoughtfully responds to their concerns about reverence, the deterioration of language, the usefulness of singular (“thee”) and plural (“you”) pronouns, the transparency of italicizing words supplied in English, and other matters. The practical takeaway that Ward wants to leave with his readers is simple: feel free to continue using the King James Bible, but also use multiple vernacular translations. We have God’s words in our own language, and this privilege brings the responsibility to read “those words in translations [we] can understand” (118). Even if we continue to prefer the King James Bible for our personal use, we must ensure that our ministry of God’s Word to others is intelligible, and therefore edifying. We must help others approach God’s Word, and not put unnecessary obstacles in their way (120).

In response to this book review, Pastor McShaffrey sent the following letter to the editor of New Horizons:

Thank you for including a review of “Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible” in the January edition.

I look forward to reading the book, but hope it contains better examples of “false friends” than the purportedly unintelligible use of “wait” in Romans 12:7. Here are some reasons:

1. The KJV’s use of italics in that verse identifies the phrase as an editorial gloss. It is not, therefore, even an example of translating inspired text.

2. The use of the preposition “on” rather than “for” intimates the intended meaning (e.g., waitresses wait “on” tables while they wait “for” their shift to end).

3. The intelligibility of the parenthetical example above proves that the “archaic” use of “wait” has been immortalized by the restaurant industry. 

4. The disputed definition “carefully attend to” continues to be listed in modern dictionaries as a second or third use of the verb.

5. Even the Queen of vernacular translations, The NIV, uses the term “wait” in the exact same sense in Acts 6:2.

6. Did not thousands of OPC children recently sing about their future hope to “wait around” God’s throne in heaven (c.f., “Once in Royal David’s City”)?

This may seem like a minor point of concern to some, but overstatements have always been common in both pro-KJV and anti-KJV rhetoric. They are anything but helpful.

Rev. Christian McShaffrey, Pastor of Grace Reformed Church (Reedsburg, WI)