“Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the KJV"
Reviewed by Taylor DeSoto
Don’t Be a Berean!
In Chapter 7 of Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible, Ward ends his book far more clearly than when he started. He finally reveals his solution to the problem of KJV readability – simply read all translations. In fact, he even makes valuing all translations a qualification for being loving the Bible.
“But I believe the tribalism—the belief that a group’s chosen translation is one of many marks of its superiority over other groups—needs to stop. All Bible-loving-and-reading Christians need to learn to see the value in all good Bible translations.”
Not only should the KJV be cast to the side as one’s primary translation, all Bibles should be cast aside for this purpose. According to Ward, Christians should not try to determine which translation is best, because none of them are. He advocates for this, despite pointing out the destruction that has been caused by such a practice back in chapter 1. Apparently the qualification for being a Bible lover is to set aside what makes a Bible good and love them all, despite any inaccuracies or poor translation choices.
“English speakers are looking for the wrong thing when we look for best.”
Now Ward is advocating for mediocrity in the Church. I vehemently disagree with Ward here. Christians should desire to give God glory, and enjoy Him forever, which involves doing everything the best we possibly can. In this review, I will examine Ward’s claim that Christian’s shouldn’t take a stand on a translation, and offer commentary.
Stop Taking the Bible So Seriously!
“We shouldn’t let our preferred translation become a symbol, a rallying cry, or a boundary marker separating us from other groups within the body of Christ.”
Here Ward introduces his reader to the modern zeitgeist, that there are no sufficient translations. He gives his reader the impression that there is no translation that is adequate for all aspects of ministry and Christian living. In order to be a “good Christian,” one must spread their time across multiple translations and use them in different ways. Despite having propped himself up as an expert in the topic, Ward continues to demonstrate to the reader that he simply isn’t a great reader, or interpreter, of the Bible. Apparently, neither are the people he hangs out with, if these anecdotal people actually exist. See yet another example of Ward admitting he cannot understand an English passage(Psalm 16:6), despite claiming to read other languages fluently and being a “language nerd”.
“I can read Hebrew, and I can tell you that none of these translations is “wrong” in any way I can figure. But I read this poetic statement many, many times and never understood it. What are the “lines”? I asked another long-time reader of the KJV, and he guessed that David is talking about lines of genealogy. He was a step ahead of me because at least he had a guess. To my shame, I can’t say I ever even stopped to ask, or noticed that I wasn’t getting it. I think I always assumed that it was just a very obscure way of saying that things were going well for David. (Don’t we all like it when lines are, um, falling just right?)”
I apologize for Ward’s inappropriate and irreverent attitude towards the inspired text of Holy Scripture. In a rather funny coincidence, I learned what this passage meant from my 22 year old Young Life leader in high school, who had absolutely zero Bible training. He didn’t even own a commentary.
Ward’s basic argument at the end of his book is essentially that the differences in Bible Translations “are really not that great,” and therefore read them all because “the Bible is awesome!” Yet we could argue the opposite from that very point. If the differences aren’t all that great, wouldn’t one be perfectly fine reading one of the translations? He continues to appeal only to personal experience and anecdotes to support his arguments.
“In my own personal study of the Bible over the years, using multiple translations and commentaries along the way, I have formed a definite impression: the major evangelical English Bible translations are all essentially conservative—and the tradition they’re conserving is the KJV tradition.”
This unfortunate perspective downplays the real concerns people have regarding translation methodology and underlying original text, and parrots the misconception that the ESV stands in the line of Tyndale. The ESV, and other modern critical translations, stand in the line of the Westcott & Hort and the Revised Version, not Tyndale and the KJV. Ward’s line of thinking shuts down the voices of men and women who are actually concerned with what their Bible says. People do care about which texts are in or out of their Bible, and if the Greek word “men” should be translated as “men and women.” Instead of addressing these very real concerns, Ward instead chooses to call those who care about the accuracy of their translation as “tribalistic.” His use of this pejorative and continued implication that those that do see one translation as being “best” a sin demonstrates the massive disconnect between Ward and the average Christian.
Most people care far more deeply than Ward does about the words that are on the page of their Bible. And if you actually take Ward’s advice and read a slew of translations, you will quickly find out that not only are their translational differences that affect doctrine, there are a healthy number of verses that are completely different between translations at the underlying text level. Not only are there thousands of textual differences between the underlying texts of traditional Bibles and modern Bibles, there are translational choices that completely change the sense of a passage. To say that “no doctrine affected” is a shocking claim.
That being said, there is some value in what Ward has to offer in this chapter, though his crusade against the KJV completely overshadowed it. Referencing other translations and/or the original languages can certainly be a helpful tool, but not in the way Ward has suggested. Instead of his solution, which is to throw out the idea of reading one translation, it is extremely helpful to only read one translation and use others as tools. Reviewing the translation choices of one Bible against another can give valuable insight at the quality of a translation. There is value in a church having a common theological language. There is value in the pastor preaching from the same translation that the people in the pews have. There is value to the unbeliever when Christians are unified in the Scripture they quote. There is value in Christians rallying upon one text.
Ward openly admits that his perspective is different than the majority of Christians today.
“I want to change the paradigm we’ve all been assuming. Stop looking for the “best” English Bible. It doesn’t exist. God never said it would. Take up the embarrassment of riches we now have.”
In other words, “lower your standards and accept that this is the way it is now.”
In this concluding chapter of Authorized, Ward offers the most limp-wristed “paradigm shift” to the serious topic of Bible translation – stop being so picky and read them all! Having one preferred translation is actually bad! They are essentially the same! Like the evangelical textual scholars, Ward speaks for God when he says, “Stop looking for the “best” English Bible. It doesn’t exist. God never said it would.” Should this be our mindset towards the Word of God? Should we take such a casual approach to the Holy Scriptures that we do not demand the very best from our Bible translators? Does Ward have the right to tell the average Christian that they cannot have a problem with a translation or decide that one is better than the other? No, no, and no.
If you’re reading this, be assured that you have every right to care which translation is best. You have every right to have a problem with liberal translation methodology and underlying original texts. You, in fact, have an obligation to care about these things because the Holy Scriptures are the means that God is speaking today (1 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 1:1-2). To say that translation isn’t really that important is to say that what God has to say isn’t all that important. Ward himself says that the Bible is the “words of God.” If this is truly the case, as Christians believe, Ward’s approach to treating Bible translations like a multi-tool pocket knife is completely inappropriate.
On the final lines of his book, Ward finally tells his reader why he wrote Authorized:
“But it is a misuse of the KJV to ask it to do today what it did in 1611, namely, to serve as a vernacular English translation. For public preaching ministry, for evangelism, for discipleship materials, indeed for most situations outside individual study, using the KJV violates Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 14. The value of vernacular translation is so great that we must fight to protect it—even if that means letting that trend line from 100 percent to 55 percent continue. Even if it means helping that trend line along. We need God’s word in our language, not in someone else’s.”
There you have it, folks.