This weekend Houston Baptist University hosted a conference on the King James Version: KJV@400: A Story of Biblical Proportions. HBU through the Dunham Bible Museum hosted this conference because the museum has an extensive collection of Bibles from around the world. (For instance, I was shown a couple of gospels today from Russia with silver plated covers that were the Csars’ and also an original printing of Erasmus’ Greek text.) Friday was focused primarily on the origins of the KJV, and Saturday was focused on the effects of the KJV on British and American culture. It had a variety of speakers and included two panel discussions that allowed a variety of questions to be raised.
I was surprised by the strong opinion by some promoting a return to the KJV. I know the KJV still holds sway in several US groups, but they tend not to be people attending and speaking at academic conferences. The primary basis of the argument here was not something related to the majority text or biblical accuracy but more the literary, poetic, and cultural standard that it represents. Another issue that was raised was the correlation between the current lack of biblical literacy and the decline of the use of the KJV. I would place the common source of both of these changes as the advent of postmodernism and that they are not really directly related to one another. However, a couple of people wanted to hold the loss of the KJV as causal in that relationship not just correlated. It was interesting though how several of the proponents mentioned how much modern translations helped them get beyond the admitted archaisms at times.
In the end the desire to hold onto the KJV appears to me to miss the point of one of the central tenets of the reformation–that of the ability of lay people to read the Bible for themselves in a vernacular translation they can understand. This is even more important now that they don’t have the cultural biblical literacy that helped the KJV remain effective well after its language became difficult for the general population. From this line of argumentation, it appears to me that they are raising tradition to a position that many protestants wouldn’t be comfortable with in principle. But it just goes to show that none of us escape tradition as we read and interpret scripture, as our good friend Gadamer emphasized a generation ago.
That debate/promotion wasn’t a large part of the conference, but it was the surprising bit for me. On the whole, the conference with its direct focus on the KJV highlighted interesting aspects of its occurrence and influence. As a comparison, in the UK there is a movement — Biblefresh — in celebration of the 400th anniversary which focuses just on getting people to read the Bible. The focus is not the KJV per se but the anniversary was used as a springboard for greater engagement with the Bible not just the KJV. I think it was very good to have a conference to look back at the influence of the KJV like ours, but the emphasis to look forward is necessary since we can’t live in the past.
As a side note, the revised version of The Voice New Testament has just been released, and I just happened to get my copies on Friday. I did some editing work on the revisions to remove some added language, and other structural changes from the first edition were made. I think these will all be welcome. In particular, they have changed the translation of christos from ‘Liberating King’ to the ‘Anointed One’. It’s not ‘the’ solution for a KJV replacement or ‘the’ best translation around, but it stands in the tradition of always considering the vernacular so that people can return again to the story of God’s work and hear it afresh.