“Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the KJV"
Reviewed by Taylor DeSoto
I wrote the first article on the “Young, Textless, and Reformed” blog on September 4, 2019. Since then, I have sought to tackle the theological problems of the Modern Critical Text, the CBGM, the modern doctrine of inspiration, as well as to shine light on many of the positions of the men and women who are actively involved in creating Bibles for the Christian church. I have examined the weaknesses of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, and presented the Scriptural and historical theological position of Protestant Christianity. Up until this point, the focus of this blog has been especially to examine the theological implications of the modern critical methods and associated texts. Having said what I have to say regarding that, I want to now turn to reviewing a work by Mark Ward called “Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible.”
My goal in reviewing this work is manifold. I want to use it as an opportunity to examine the power of rhetoric, to clarify places of misrepresentation or perhaps misunderstanding within the pages of Ward’s work, and to present simple counter arguments to the many claims made by Ward. I want to provide an analysis and in some places, refutation, of the content found within Ward’s work. In this introductory article, I will begin reviewing the introduction by taking a look at three notable components of Ward’s work – rhetoric, anecdotes, and a narrative.
Rhetoric, Anecdotes, and a Narrative
Beginning with the cover of Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible, the reader is introduced to the whimsical tone of Mark Ward. Starting with the title, the reader can expect to encounter at least two major themes: How the King James Bible (KJV) can be used, and how it can be misused. The introduction gives the reader a good idea of how the rest of the book will feel. Ward weaves facts and quippy commentary together, following this basic formula throughout the work: providing a 1) statistic or statement, followed by 2) some sort of joke or anecdote, and 3) ending with a concluding thought. This pattern is exemplified in the first three sentences of the book.
“1) Out of every 100 Americans who pulled a Bible off a shelf today, 55 of them pulled down a King James Version. 2) I feel fairly safe in saying that the King James is the only 1611 release still on any bestseller lists. 3) All the same, 55 percent is only slightly more than half, and the trend line is clear—for it started near 100 percent. The English-speaking Christian church, which was once almost completely unified in using the KJV, is no longer unified around a particular Bible translation. Why? Because people say they can no longer understand it.”
Mark Ward, Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible, ed. Elliot Ritzema, Lynnea Fraser, and Danielle Thevenaz (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018), 1.
The above quote is representative of Ward’s style as an author and exemplifies well-written persuasive writing. To demonstrate this point, note in the quoted passage above. Ward begins with a data point – 55% of Christians who read a Bible read a King James. He inserts a joke, and then provides his opinion that this clearly demonstrates that his interpretation of this number is that King James readership is on the decline. He then offers an explanation for this data point – that people simply cannot understand the KJV any longer.
This is arguably the most foundational premise of the entire book – that people cannot understand the KJV any longer. Yet this claim is contradicted by the data point he provided in the first sentence of the work, that 55% of Christians who read their Bible, read the King James. That is to say, of the people who read their Bible, most of them can understand the KJV. Further, this explanation leaves the reader wanting for an adequate explanation of this data point. If it is true that people are abandoning the KJV because they can’t understand it, why do most Christians who read a Bible read it? Despite the fact that one of the key textbooks used to train pastors is Bruce Metzger and Bart Ehrman’s The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, the KJV captures significant readership. It should also be noted that no other translation even comes close to the 55% readership number that the King James enjoys.
By presenting part of the whole picture, the reader is introduced to a partial explanation, though it is presented as the whole explanation for why the King James Bible, according to Ward, should be on its way out. In doing this, Ward is able to present the case that the only reason people retain the KJV is due to “habit, conviction, or merely a loyalty and love that we quite naturally attach to things we value.” Ward does not address a fundamental group that retains the KJV – those who do so because the underlying manuscript readings are preserved, and that the translation of those readings is most accurate. So we see how rhetoric is a powerful tool used to funnel the reader down a path that neglects to address a primary reason many people retain the KJV. This is a critical flaw with the premise of the book. If the reason people are abandoning the KJV, assuming they are, is due to its difficult vocabulary and syntax, why is it still the most widely read Bible version in the English speaking world? Is it possible that there is more to this story that the reader is not being told? Abundantly so.
Ward’s anecdotes demonstrate that I may be onto something with my first point.
“I grew up reading and hearing the KJV, and I don’t recall having any trouble with the verbiage. I don’t remember ever being baffled by, “We had been as Sodoma” (Rom 9:29) or “Let him that glorieth glory in this” (Jer 9:24). Early on I felt a sufficient mastery of Elizabethan diction not only to read it but to speak it. I even remember as a third grader asking my beloved teacher, Mrs. Page, if we could all use King James English for a day. (She said yes, but it never happened.… Little kids remember these things.) Somehow toddlers managed to learn this style of speech, in a time before not just antibiotics but Sesame Street.”
So it seems that Ward, who grew up reading the KJV, even as a child, had no issues reading and even speaking it. He was taught to read the KJV growing up, and therefore he could read the KJV growing up. This anecdote is devastating to the narrative presented as the introduction continues. The point of highlighting this is that the premise of the book is that people simply don’t understand KJV English, which Ward has seemingly debunked in the first few pages of his book. If anything, he is telling his reader that he was able to overcome the greatest challenge of reading the KJV as a child. Keep this in mind as Ward develops his thesis throughout the book.
The reader has seen two vitally important pieces of information thus far: That most Christians who read their Bible can understand the KJV, and that Ward can understand the KJV. These facts are not highlighted by Ward himself, but he has said both plainly. This seems to work against his premise that people are abandoning the KJV because “they can no longer understand it.” Here is where the reader is presented with a narrative, which essentially goes like this: “Many people cannot understand KJV English, and therefore it is on its way out, and we should allow it to retire.”
“But there are people, many people, who insist that KJV English is too difficult. Many of them, in turn, have already jettisoned the KJV.”
A major theme of Ward’s book is detailing the difficulty of the Authorized Version, though he constantly works against his own argument. Ward goes on to point out that the New York Times, hardly a bastion of intellectuals, frequently uses phrases which find their origin in the King James Bible. He even employs a word found in the KJV, “Hitherto” to further his point, which seems to work against the thesis of his book.
While it is true that people find the KJV difficult to read, it seems, based on the data Ward presents the reader with, that most Christians who read their Bible (55%) do not find it so difficult to read that they abandon it. It appears then that the audience for this work are those “who insist that KJV English is too difficult.” So the premise of the book as found in the introduction does not seem to be based on Ward’s personal experience reading the KJV as a child, or with the data that says most Bible reading Christians can read the KJV, but rather on the “people, many people,” who cannot understand it.
The introduction of Ward’s book is interesting. He introduces the reader to data and anecdotes which point towards the reality that the KJV is readable, while setting up a narrative which says it’s not. Further, Ward explains how he himself came to understand KJV English, by being taught KJV English growing up. At the end of the introduction, Ward leaves his reader with this interesting thought:
“So what do we do with the KJV? Teach people to read it? Revise it? Chuck it? No, no, and no. Read on.” (Ibid., 4.)
Despite being taught KJV English growing up, Ward argues against teaching people to read it. As I finished the introduction, I got the impression that I was missing something. If the KJV is readable, and Ward could read it as a child, what is the dilemma here? What problem is trying to be solved, and what is Ward’s answer?
In the introduction, Ward makes two observations which seem to be far more important than the thesis of his book:
- The transition away from the KJV has brought confusion and conflict within the church
- The Christian church, once unified around the KJV, is no longer unified around a Bible translation
These seem to be far more concerning than low reading comprehension in the church, but maybe I’m alone in thinking that. Interestingly enough, Ward’s audience seems to be those that do not read the KJV rather than those that do. Even though his thesis is a persuasive argument advocating for the retirement of the translation, his introduction gives the impression that the KJV can be read, and not only that, is widely enjoyed.