A recent site visitor emailed me to proudly proclaim that he had cornered one of the scholars involved with the NIV translation with a simple question about the readability of Bible versions… a question which, he said, left the scholar speechless. But I found nothing particularly profound about his assertion and in fact saw a very common misunderstanding about the KJV and bible translations in general. This common misunderstanding, however, has profound implications if believed. It’s an unfortunate misunderstanding that’s promoted and taught by the IFB and especially KJV Onlyists. Please find our discussion below. (By the way I couldn’t help but notice all the spelling errors (typos?) that this person had for someone who is so insistent on promoting the KJV because of it’s 12th grade reading level, but that may be my own perception – I just think it’s strange).
Perhaps your problem with the KJV is very simple, the experts say the KJV is written at a twelvth grade level of understanding, the NIV at an eigth grade level, and the NLB at a fourth grade level. After speaking to one of the translators of the NLB at a seminal he was teaching I asked a question which left him speachless and without an answer. He was quite proud that they had in just a few years brought the translation down to this level so I asked, In the next 25 years will you bring the translation down to a kindergarden level or what level is your goal?
I’m not sure I understand. What’s your point?
That question doesn’t intimidate me nor does it leave me speechless. The answer is simple, the more people who can understand the Bible the better we will be able to reach people for Christ.
I’ll give you an analogy. If someone gave you instructions for repairing your car or house (assuming you aren’t a mechanic or architect) wouldn’t you want the instructions explained in the simplest and easiest way possible? How much more important is it then to have the instructions for life and eternity explained in the easiest and simplest way possible?
This isn’t rocket science. There are a lot of hurting and lost people in the world, the majority of which don’t even speak English let alone have a 12th grade education or advanced theological training. Why anyone would advocate for the most complex Bible written in an archaic English that very few (if any) truly understand is baffling to me.
Thanks for writing.
Steve, perhaps you will understand if I explain it this way. the KJV is the only english version translated word for word where all others are more or less thought for thought where the translators decided what the text said and ment doctrinally and denominationally then they wrote their thoughts so you would understand from their doctrinal view. why do you think with nothing but the bible so many churches believe and teach the same doctrines without a denominational structure or hierarchy to lead them? astray. nowhere in the bible does it direct fourth graders to teach and lead others to christ. always adult men and women are instructed to lead and teach the younger immature ones. you need to realize if you are an adult people will talk to you and teach you as an adult. immagine going college and having your professor teach at a fourth grade level.? every teacher obviously must concider his audience. when I teach younger children I teach to their level, but your not at that level and the bible was not written to that level.
Thanks for taking the time to explain. There are a few problems with your position though. If you’ll indulge me I’d like to point them out.
First, the KJV is NOT “the only English version translated word for word”. There are at least 6 major translations (not including the KJV) that rely on Formal Equivalence (word-for-word) translation method. They are the Interlinear, NASB, AMP, ESV, RSV and NKJV). Placed on a continuum, the KJV would actually fall below 5 of those and just above the NKJV making it more of a mixture of Formal Equivalence and Dynamic Equivalence. The Interlinear would contain the purest word-for-word translation process percentage wise. It’s actually impossible to have a 100% Formal Equivalence translation because in certain instances the original language contains words for a concept which has no direct equivalent in English.
Second, Formal Equivalence doesn’t necessarily equate with more accurate and/or better. Sometimes it’s impossible to accurately convey the meaning of a text. Cultural idioms, slang, rhetorical language, euphemisms/figures of speech and chiasmus (just to name a few) are almost impossible to translate in a word-for-word structure because (1) there may not be an English equivalent word or words and (2) if there is an equivalent English word or words the meaning could be lost due to extreme differences in the language. (See the “I made it by the skin of my teeth” example in my KJV Only article http://www.baptistdeception.com/kjv-only-deception – the other points are discussed there as well).
Third, it’s a common myth (especially among the IFB – see “Myth 7” in the article mentioned above) that translators who used Dynamic Equivalence were injecting their biased understandings and beliefs into the texts. The NLT, for example, had a translation committee made up of over a dozen different denominations for the express purpose of accountability so that no one denominational influence would dominate the text and so that no one translator could change the text to reflect his ideals.
Fourth, it seems as though you’ve twisted your argument about the reading grade level into a straw man fallacy. I don’t think anyone expects fourth graders to teach scriptures or lead others to Christ. But there are millions of people who can’t read past a sixth grade level. So let’s stick with your analogy. Yes it’s silly to imagine a college professor teaching at a sixth grade level, but that analogy doesn’t fit because you switch your original objection. A better analogy (to fit your original objection) would be a sixth grade teacher trying (preacher) to teach sixth graders (congregation) from a 12th grade textbook (KJV). Yes I agree, every teacher must consider his/her audience. I may not be at that level (sixth grade) but many of the people I minister to are.
Fifth, how do you know at what level the Bible was written? I’d be curious to know your source for such a claim.
Finally, using your logic, you should be using and defending the RSV. The RSV is written at a 12th grade level and uses a purer Formal Equivalence process than the KJV. (By the way the NRSV and NASB are at an 11th grade level and the ESV is at a 10th grade level).
I haven’t heard back from this person yet. If/when I do I’ll post it here.