Why the King James Version?


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There’s actually another question which I really want to discuss but I wanted to make sure we think through and appreciate what we have.

Why do you suppose the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints uses the King James Version of the Bible? It was popular in Joseph Smith’s time, but why has it continued to be used?

Keep that response in mind as you answer the following: What does the next LDS edition of the Bible look like? How will it keep those aspects you described above while keeping the text approachable for a new generation?

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 My answers (or non-answers as the case may be):

Why the KJV? Mostly I think it is tradition (and, as Tevye explains, we don't always know why tradition exists). There could be a financial aspect -- the KJV is public domain so there are no royalties or similar to pay for the use of the text. We have a special "fondness" for the KJV language (we even show a preference to pray using long dead thee/thy/thou pronouns when addressing God, as if these pronouns make prayer more effective).

I also think there is a "conservative" (doesn't like change) element to this. I have long observed that the Church has a tendency, once it adopts a belief or practice, to stick with that belief or practice and not seek change. I think some of what keeps the KJV in use is this conservative inertia (which might essentially be the same thing as tradition (cue Tevye again)).

As for what I expect for a future edition of the Bible? Since I see our use of the KJV mostly driven by tradition and conservatism, I guess I don't expect a future edition to be much different. Someone may make changes and corrections to cross references and the Topical Guide and similar, but mostly I expect future editions to look like current editions.

If I could throw a wish list at the question, I would really like to see the Church put out a good study Bible version that addresses some of the challenges in the text, points out areas where the KJV translators just did not have the texts that we now have, addresses authorship issues (Documentary hypothesis would be interesting, but I expect Isaiah probably figures in big here since Isaiah authorship questions impact the BoM), address textual questions (like the long ending of Mark), and so on. Considering what I usually see coming from our curriculum writers, I don't know if we (collectively) have the stomach to tackle tough issues about the Biblical texts, so I'm not hopeful that the Church would put out something like that.

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2 hours ago, mordorbund said:

Why do you suppose the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints uses the King James Version of the Bible? It was popular in Joseph Smith’s time, but why has it continued to be used?

Here's what I've heard, but I haven't taken the time to verify.  Two opinions:

1) Of all the versions available, the King James version is the most accurate and complete.

2) Most of the versions today pretty much preserve the language of the Tyndale Bible.  A lot of sacrifices were made to bring us the KJV.  So, it was more-or-less Joseph's preference because he considered the language of the KJV to be sacred.

I rather like #2 better.  But I'm afraid that may be short lived.

The whole reason why we needed a Bible in English is so that a "poor farm boy" would have access to its actual words.  Today, a "poor farm boy's language skills" are very common.  But the difference is that today's kids are not raised reading this Bible anymore.  So, they read, but cannot understand.

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/new-era/2005/03/what-had-to-happen?lang=eng

At some point, we're going to need a more plain-language / modern language version.  And that may be the death of Christianity (as we know it).  While we can try to modernize the language somewhat, I believe we can't sufficiently dumb-down the language enough for the average person in America to read and understand while sufficiently preserving the literary mechanisms of the Bible as we know it.  But I am guessing people will still try.

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2007/04/the-miracle-of-the-holy-bible?lang=eng

My preference would be to keep the KJV and offer as many study guides and aides as possible.  This is the route the Church has taken since I've been alive.  I hope they don't change course.

Edited by Carborendum
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Some of our liturgical/doctrinal vocabulary comes from the KJV (“more sure word of prophecy”, “nail in a sure place”, etc), and by abandoning the KJV it becomes harder to preserve those scriptural connections and/or pass them on to the younger generation.  Additionally, major portions of the BoM text interact with, not just the Bible, but the King James Bible.

I can see the Church getting to the point where you can buy—say—an NRSV study Bible through Deseret Book or even through LDS Distribution services.  I think it less likely that the Church will undertake its own LDS Study Bible during our lifetimes; if for no other reason than that so many in the LDS/BYU academic community (who would likely be tapped for such a project) are revealing their allegiance to (if not their own identities as) rakes, groomers, libertines, and/or generally dishonest cads; Thomas Wayment being the most recent example.

Edited by Just_A_Guy
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5 hours ago, mordorbund said:

What does the next LDS edition of the Bible look like?

I hope we never move away from the KJV other than integrating the JST.

The concept of keeping the context approachable for the up coming generation raises my ire.

Sure it is difficult to learn a different style.  But my children have all figured it out.  And the formality of the text helps them to understand the significance and sacred nature of scripture.  

Anyway, the Holy Ghost teaches us the most important parts of the scriptures as well as the symbolism.  Watering down the  text for the least common denominator is always a bad idea.

Us Americans can barely navigate one language.  Many countries populations are multi-lingual. 

When I really want to research scripture I go to the original Hebrew or Greek.

https://apps.apple.com/us/app/spectrum-bible/id336014635

As an example.  My college age son recently asked me why chirality of chemicals were important.  He really didn’t understand chirality at all.  I had to explain basic concepts of protein production and folding.

Then I asked him if he knew what an enzyme was.  He said sure, a substance / protein made by the body that lowers the activation energy of a reaction.  

I said, great what does that mean?  He had no idea.   He knew the words but was not taught how an enzyme works.  I explained how an enzyme actually works and he was totally blown away.  It taught him the importance of Chirality.

He now has a visual understanding of how proteins are complex 3D structures / dynamic machines that interact with each other due to basic forces.

Words have meaning.  But sometimes you have to go beyond the words and really have a mental understanding of what is going on.

Edited by mikbone
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1 hour ago, mikbone said:

Do tell.

Wayment went on a Dialogue-run Come Follow Me Youtube broadcast a couple of weeks ago, took a long-standing minority rabbinical fringe theory that Joseph of Egypt may have been gay (because he was hawt, wore fancy clothes, and played with boys, or something) and represented it as “The rabbis say Joseph was gay”—passing it off as a universally-acknowledge historical truth.  He then hinted that since Joseph-as-deliverer is a type for Jesus, that maybe Jesus was gay (or at least so effeminate as to be “queer” for modern purposes) too; and that a cisgender “masculine” male could never fulfill the role of “savior” as the Jews understood it.

Edited by Just_A_Guy
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4 hours ago, MrShorty said:

There could be a financial aspect -- the KJV is public domain so there are no royalties or similar to pay for the use of the text.

To expand on this point as it's something that comes up quite frequently in a lot of various discussions: 

In the United States, the term "creative work" is a deliberately broad legal term that encompasses a wide variety of produced materials, including religious texts. 

The way US copyright law works, copyrights are there to ensure that whoever creates a work will have a designated period of time to enjoy the fruits of their labors. That is, to say, they'll have time in order to monetize their work to make their money back on creating it, plus whatever profit they may gain. 

Because of this, US copyright law has considerations under which a work cannot receive a copyright under its own merit. When this situation is met, the work is said to be in the "public domain". 

The most common method by which a work passes into the public domain is, to put it simply, the passage of time. As noted above, copyrights were never intended to be permanent. If a work goes beyond a certain date, then the copyright expires and anyone can use it. 

Once a work goes into the public domain, anyone who wishes to seek a new copyright on it must do so by means of an "innovation" they create. For example, if you were to go to the Middle East, take some photos of various sites, and insert the photos into the text of the KJV, you could seek a new copyright on the basis of those photos. 

Things like this are why the KJV is in the public domain, but newer translations of the Bible and various other works are under copyright. 

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13 minutes ago, Just_A_Guy said:

Wayment went on a Dialogue-run Come Follow Me Youtube broadcast a couple of weeks ago, took a long-standing minority rabbinical fringe theory that Joseph of Egypt may have been gay (because he was hawt, wore fancy clothes, and played with boys, or something) and represented it as “The rabbis say Joseph was gay”—passing it off as a universally-acknowledge historical truth.  He then hinted that since Joseph-as-deliverer is a type for Jesus, that maybe Jesus was gay (or at least so effeminate as to be “queer” for modern purposes) too; and that a cisgender “masculine” male could never fulfill the role of “savior” as the Jews understood it.

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1 hour ago, mikbone said:

Watering down the  text for the least common denominator is always a bad idea.

I'm not sure that "translating Biblical text into 20th or 21st century English" is quite the same thing as "watering down the text for the least common denominator". As near as I can tell, most of Christianity takes Biblical translation and textual criticism quite seriously -- even when rendering the text in early 21st century English. While there are no doubt different philosophies at play, I would be careful generalizing that anything but the KJV is somehow watered down.

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2 hours ago, MrShorty said:

I'm not sure that "translating Biblical text into 20th or 21st century English" is quite the same thing as "watering down the text for the least common denominator". As near as I can tell, most of Christianity takes Biblical translation and textual criticism quite seriously -- even when rendering the text in early 21st century English. While there are no doubt different philosophies at play, I would be careful generalizing that anything but the KJV is somehow watered down.

Anything but the original is watered down. Context is lost, poetry is lost.  

You ever tried translating poetry?  It don't work.

It may not be watered down 90%, but you have lost material.

And scripture is the most demanding of all literature in my opinion.

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4 minutes ago, mikbone said:

Anything but the original is watered down.

Agreed. Unfortunately, we don't have any originals. All we have (even in the original Greek and Hebrew) are copies (of copies of copies of copies). On top of that, while others may have the ability to read ancient Hebrew and Greek, I cannot, so I am at the mercy of the translators and the textual critics that are all deciding what is the closest text to the original and how best to render the ancient meanings of that text into English (or French, if I want to dust off my mission language, but that is pretty rusty).

The KJV is a nice translation, for a 17th century work. With all of the work in textual criticism and the understanding of the ancient languages that has occurred in the 300-400 years since then, the KJV is not our most solid translation (even if we like the old English rendering). I think there is a lot to enrich and inform our study of scripture (not water down) if we look beyond the KJV.

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7 hours ago, Carborendum said:

At some point, we're going to need a more plain-language / modern language version.  And that may be the death of Christianity (as we know it).  While we can try to modernize the language somewhat, I believe we can't sufficiently dumb-down the language enough for the average person in America to read and understand while sufficiently preserving the literary mechanisms of the Bible as we know it. 

(Not necessarily for Carb, just spring boarding here). This is actually what prompts my question. When the medium gets in the way of the message the medium gets supplanted (when the medium is the message then then the people get supplanted).

As far as the Church goes, the Bible is valuable “as far as it is translated correctly”. It may be worth reading as a window to an ancient people, poetry and story telling, or as protolanguage of the early states, but I think the Church uses the KJV 1) to inform modern Saints about God’s dealings with other covenant people and 2) to preserve a context for the revelations of the Restoration (including the Book of Mormon).

Other churches have shown that the first goal can be met if the scholars are kept in control or the leaders provide sufficient commentary to control the laity’s understanding. We could work with the NRSV if we want to stay close to our roots.

The second goal is difficult with any other translation. As @Just_A_Guy noted some of the phrases and passages in the have meaning because of their intertextuality with the KJV. If we switch to a new translation would it be best to also update the language of the other scriptures to match? Or should the Church treat the context as already lost and cut it loose?

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30 minutes ago, mordorbund said:

The second goal is difficult with any other translation. As @Just_A_Guy noted some of the phrases and passages in the have meaning because of their intertextuality with the KJV. If we switch to a new translation would it be best to also update the language of the other scriptures to match? Or should the Church treat the context as already lost and cut it loose?

Yeesh.  And as it is, we get all kinds of grief just because in 1981 we “updated” the Book of Mormon to match what it said in 1840.  Either we get an updated Bible translation that dilutes much of the BoM and D&C and POGP’s meaning, or we update the LDS scriptures and expose ourselves to not-wholly-unfounded allegations of scriptural whitewash.  The status quo comes off looking like the least-bad option here.

Although, maybe the Church could beef up GospelLibrary or develop a new program like Logos or MySword or BYU’s Scripture Citation Index, that would contain Church as well as third-party content with split screens that let the user flip between alternate translations and academic as well as GA commentaries within a few clicks/taps.

Edited by Just_A_Guy
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There are known problems with the KJV Bible.  Foremost is the discovery of the Dead Sea Scriptures.  This short of the discovery is that the ancient versions of biblical text thought to have been the most accurate when the KJV was translated - what we have learned is that such text were more inaccurate than imagined.  Because of the impact of the Dead Sea Scriptures almost all modern versions of the Bible have been significantly altered (updated). 

Because of the revelations coming to us from the Book of Mormon we have learned that the most accurate collection of historical Hebrew scriptures(scriptures of Israel) was lost by a Jew named Laban.  These scriptures that were lost by Laban were written on brass plates and were obtained by the family of Lehi and taken to the Americas.   We are told that at some future time the more accurate record of scriptures would be restored.

I would not shift to something about the KJV that I hope the church restores or add to our current version.  When I was a missionary the church did not have its own versions of the Bible and there were a number of versions of the KJV.  As I was purchasing my scriptures for my mission, our family had a friend that was a professor at BYU in the religion department.  His name was Eldin Ricks and provided the initial "Ricks Ready Reference" which was a publication of subjects and scripture that referenced those subjects.  Eldin recommended that I purchase a particular red letter edition of the scriptures.  This particular addition put into italics all words in question in the translation.

Many may not understand what is meant by a variant reading of scripture.  A variant reading is a translation of scriptures that is consider as a possible translation that may be more correct than that text that is given in the translation - in other words the words in italics were words for which the translation is in doubt.  I love my KJV version because I would hand that Bible to anyone arguing that the Bible was the perfect word of G-d that we should not doubt.  I would then ask them to open my scriptures to any page and note how many words and phrases were written in italics.  I would very much like to have these italics in our particularly approved version of the Bible.  I think it would go a long way in moderating discussion (arguments) that occur over doctrine obtained by particular wording in the Bible.

 

The Traveler

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4 hours ago, Traveler said:

I would very much like to have these italics in our particularly approved version of the Bible.

My Bibles, which have always been official church editions, have always had italicized words, which I was taught when young were uncertain translations.

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20 minutes ago, SilentOne said:

My Bibles, which have always been official church editions, have always had italicized words, which I was taught when young were uncertain translations.

I was taught that the KJV italicized words that were added to make the English grammatically acceptable or to explain concepts that would be foreign to a modern reader.

Edited by Vort
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Alma 37

3 And these plates of brass, which contain these engravings, which have the records of the holy scriptures upon them, which have the genealogy of our forefathers, even from the beginning—
4 Behold, it has been prophesied by our fathers, that they should be kept and handed down from one generation to another, and be kept and preserved by the hand of the Lord until they should go forth unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, that they shall know of the mysteries contained thereon.

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1 hour ago, Vort said:

I was taught that the KJV italicized words that were added to make the English grammatically acceptable or to explain concepts that would be foreign to a modern reader.

This.  A good study Bible will usually have footnotes explaining potentially-ambiguous translations, though.  The NET Bible (online) is really good at this.

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On 3/29/2022 at 5:36 AM, mordorbund said:

There’s actually another question which I really want to discuss but I wanted to make sure we think through and appreciate what we have.

Why do you suppose the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints uses the King James Version of the Bible? It was popular in Joseph Smith’s time, but why has it continued to be used?

Keep that response in mind as you answer the following: What does the next LDS edition of the Bible look like? How will it keep those aspects you described above while keeping the text approachable for a new generation?

First, are you in a work position that makes you privy to some changes that might be happening, or might be addressed this weekend? :)

As to why the Church chooses to use, and still uses the KJV, I think this article is a pretty good thought as to why -- "400 years of the King James Bible." The end of the article shares the following, "the Church has held to the King James Version as being doctrinally more accurate than recent versions." This has been my understanding of why we have held to the KJV. I would also think, like others have shared, its connection to the Book of Mormon and words pretty much quoted from the same books.

As to the second question, this is a great pondering question, but I have no clue. The next edition looks like the current edition is my best guess. :)

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Why does the Church use the Bible at all? There is plenty of scripture more relevant to our day. What's so special about the Bible?

We use the Bible because of is an invaluable witness of Jesus Christ, his gospel, and his Church, that is, his Kingdom. The Bible was preserved for us.

 As for the KJV vs. Another Translation discussion, I think it's moot at best. Pick up a different translation and use it openly for your Bible study. I bet you a thousand bucks your bishop does not take action on your membership status for it.

Heaving said that, let me point out that much of the Book of Mormon is easier to understand if you have a background in reading the KJV, especially the Old Testament.

Edited by Vort
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18 hours ago, Vort said:

.

 As for the KJV vs. Another Translation discussion, I think it's moot at best. Pick up a different translation and use it openly for your Bible study. I bet you a thousand bucks your bishop does not take action on your membership status for it.

 

I can back this up.  Over the past year I’ve not had my iPhone/GospelLibrary app in Gospel Doctrine class (as part of my calling I’ve been using its hotspot and my laptop/webcam in order to broadcast the class to homebound members during COVID, and it’s a little temperamental so I prefer to just set it on a table and let it do its thing ubdisturbed); so I’ve resorted to bringing paper scriptures to Church like it’s 2005 or something.  Several times I’ve been rushed and just grabbed my NSRV Study Bible on the way out the door because it was more convenient, and no one has ever said anything.

Edited by Just_A_Guy
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PS To finish answering: I suspect the new English LDS edition of the Bible will look much like the current one. I could be wrong, though, which would be interesting.

PPS I'm hoping to hear @mordorbund's input.

Edited by Vort
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15 hours ago, Just_A_Guy said:

I can back this up.  Over the past year I’ve not had my iPhone/GospelLibrary app in Gospel Doctrine class (as part of my calling I’ve been using its hotspot and my laptop/webcam in order to broadcast the class to homebound members during COVID, and it’s a little temperamental so I prefer to just set it on a table and let it do its thing ubdisturbed); so I’ve resorted to bringing paper scriptures to Church like it’s 2005 or something.  Several times I’ve been rushed and just grabbed my NSRV Study Bible on the way out the door because it was more convenient, and no one has ever said anything.

You can also purchase so-called "parallel Bibles" that have 2+ translations positioned next to each other for study and comparison purposes. I have one somewhere that has four different translations. 

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