It wasn’t the “are you still beating your wife?” question, but it was, nonetheless, risky. A student in the Christian school currently meeting at our church said, “My dad wanted to know what Bible you use when you preach?”
I can remember when the King James Version was the accepted Bible for pulpit use. A deacon told me a story when I came as pastor to his church about some ladies slamming their Bibles shut with a loud “thud” if they couldn’t follow the pastor when he read his text. I soon learned that their story was his story, too—he wanted me to use King James only!
Many of us “cut our teeth” on the King James. It was really all we had in those days. One positive result was that scripture memorization was standardized since we all memorized the same version.
To underscore its pedigree, some add another modifier and call it “the authorized” version. However, it was authorized form the throne room of King James in 1611, not from the throne room of the Lord. The Pilgrims who came to America didn’t accept the new King James Bible since it was used by the Church of England, but instead brought the Geneva Bible with them on the Mayflower.
Of course, language has changed dramatically since 1611. I remember as a boy the chapel where our kindergarten had daily prayer. A verse on the wall read, “Suffer the little children to come unto me.” I puzzled over this. “Suffer” in 1611 meant “allow,” not “to cause pain.” And Paul insisted those who were living at the return of Christ wouldn’t “prevent” those who died. “Prevent” in that day meant “precede,” so the dead in Christ will be raised first, he said.
The Today’s English Version New Testament was published when I was in high school. It was designed for those for whom English was second language, and the vocabulary was under 200 words. It met with instant acceptance, and later became The Good News Bible. Then The Living Bible paraphrase found acceptance, and then The New International Version and others. The trend continues with many translations available to help us understand God’s truth.
I suppose a purist would choose to bring either the Hebrew Bible or the Greek New Testament to the pulpit to be authentic. But a survey I once saw postulated that only 10 percent of seminarians maintain their skills in the biblical languages.
So, what do we do? We show reverence to the familiar King James Version, but we also find increased understanding by using newer translations. Increased understanding is a good thing. After all, the Bible was given to be read, understood and obeyed.
Michael J. Brooks is pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster. The church’s website is siluriabaptist.com.