Produce Better Readers, Not Easier Bibles
By Taylor DeSoto
Christians, especially those in the Reformed circles, have been, historically, most inclined to pursue knowledge and truth over and above movements driven by spiritualism and emotionalism. Over the last several years, there has been a trend away from this path at every level of our society, and inevitably this has impacted the church. As our society becomes less Christian, it follows that people are less concerned with truth and the pursuit of knowledge. This is why many of us homeschool our kids or enroll them in trusted private institutions.
Despite the precedent being set for higher educational aspirations, more and more frequently I have seen Christians advocate for Bibles that are easier to read on the grounds that “The Bible should be written in the easiest possible English.” This, I imagine, comes from the well-intentioned desire that people with all levels of education can have access to the Scriptures. This is a great desire, though I’m afraid the approach we have taken as a church is not actually beneficial.
Many Christians are quick to criticize public schools when they teach to the “lowest common denominator” and argue correctly that it inhibits children from exceeding expectations. I find it reasonable to apply this to the Christian church as it pertains to Bible comprehension. It follows that if we expect less of Christians, we will receive less.
Many contributors in this space have said that the KJV is written at a 5th grade reading level, while others place it closer to 12th grade. For reference, most middle school and high school curriculum include in part or in whole, writings from Shakespeare. If we take the more conservative estimation and assign the KJV a 12th grade reading level, we should also assume that this is well within the reach of the vast majority of English speaking Christians, right? It doesn’t seem overestimating to assume that the average Christian can read at a 12th grade level.
Despite this assumption being relatively innocuous, it seems to be a controversial take in the last several years. Many advocates of modern translations have, I suppose indirectly, made the case that a 12th grade reading level is too high a bar to set for Christians in modernity. If the KJV is said to be too difficult to read, then what is inadvertently communicated is that Christians should not be expected to read at a high school level. This is the level, by the way, that is expected of a 17 year old graduating public high school. And that is assuming the highest level of difficulty for the KJV.
One solution that I have not seen entertained by the “KJV is too difficult” crowd is increasing the reading comprehension of the church. If it is the case that the average Christian does not read at the level of a nearly graduated high schooler, we do not have a KJV problem, we have an education problem. The assumption that the average Christian will find the KJV incomprehensible also comes with it the assumption that these people are comprehending language below the level of a high schooler. If this is truly the case, this is shocking, and something should be done about it, because the KJV is not going to be the only thing on the list of “works Christians cannot read.”
Perhaps the “KJV is too difficult” crowd is correct, and this is the canary in the coal mine for where the Christian church is at right now. If it is the case that Christians do not have the mental capacity to take on the English KJV, it is also the case that there are many, many works that they also do not have access to. Hidden in the assumption that the average Christian cannot read the KJV is also the assumption that the average Christian is effectively reading at a lower level than a publicly educated high schooler. This, to me, is deeply concerning if it is true.
I tend to be far more optimistic, and have far more faith in the Christian church. I have found the men and women in churches to be more studious and concerned with not only educating themselves, but educating their children than what has been presented by the “KJV is too difficult” crowd. Rather than assuming Christians simply do not have the mental capabilities to read the KJV, I believe they are able, especially in reformed circles. So rather than advocating for easier Bibles, perhaps it is more productive, and more beneficial to advocate for better readers.