Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible. By Mark Ward. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018. 154 pp. Paper, $12.99.
As one who holds to the Majority Text (MT) view of textual criticism, I have a warm place in my heart for the KJV. While it follows the Textus Receptus (TR), not the MT per se, it is still the closest modern translation to the MT, along with the NKJV. So I was drawn by this title.
I used the RSV until my senior year in college when I came to faith in Christ. Then I switched to the NASB, which I used for about 15 years. After that I began to use the NKJV because of its affinity to the MT.
Of course, Ward’s experience is the opposite of mine. He grew up with the KJV (see, e.g., pp. 19, 26, 85). He received his Ph.D. from Bob Jones University where the KJV is “the campus standard in the classroom and in the chapel pulpit” (bju.edu/about/positions.php). So he has had a heavy dose of the KJV. That is what makes his comments about the KJV so helpful.
I enjoyed the discussion in chap. 1 of five things we lose if the Church stops using the KJV. Also much appreciated was chap. 3, “Dead Words and ‘False Friends’” (pp. 29-49). He gives six major examples of “false friends”—misleading expressions in the KJV due to the change in meaning of the words (pp. 32-42)— and twenty-five minor examples (pp. 45-49).
Ward’s discussion of the readability of the KJV was helpful as well (chap. 4).
I expected in this book to read a lot about the New KJV (NKJV). After all, if a person was writing about the deficiencies of Windows 1.0 today, you would think he might compare it to Windows 10. You’d certainly want to talk about the history of the various versions.
I thought Ward would compare the KJV and NKJV. What I found instead is that he not only does not compare them, he rarely mentions the NKJV at all! I found mention of the NKJV on only two pages (pp. 56, 90). When he talks about the main Bible translations other than the KJV, he omits mention of the NKJV: “People are wrong to despise or neglect the ESV, NASB, CSB, NIV, NLT, NET Bible, and other good evangelical Bible translations” (p. 137). When he lists the versions he mentions the “Lexham English Bible, New American Standard Bible, English Standard Version, Christian Standard Bible, New International Version, NET Bible, and New Living Translation” (pp. 139-40). Those lists are the same except for the addition of the LEB.
Ward acts as though the current version of the KJV being used in churches is the 1611 edition. But it is not. Art Farstad, the head editor of the NKJV, wrote a book entitled The New King James Version: In the Great Tradition. He walked through the various editions and showed that the current KJV is actually the 1769 Oxford Revision (Farstad, p. 26). That revision dropped the fourteen apocryphal books which were included in the 1611 KJV (Farstad, p. 24). Ward fails to mention that fact as well. The 1769 version of the KJV, the one used today, is much changed in terms of punctuation, grammar, and spelling. It should be noted that one of its predecessors, the Cambridge edition of 1638, improved the text “by inserting words or clauses, especially in the Old Testament, overlooked by the editors of 1611” (F. H. A. Scrivener, cited by Alfred W. Pollard in The Holy Bible 1611 Edition King James Version, p. 52).
Here is the bottom line for Ward: since the KJV is not in vernacular English (e.g., pp. 61-86, 119, 137, 138), the KJV should not be used “for public preaching ministry, for evangelism, for discipleship materials, indeed for most situations outside individual study” (p. 137). I agree.
In terms of what version should be used, he says, “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. Make the best of our multi-translation situation, because it’s a truly great problem to have” (p. 137). Here I find myself agreeing and disagreeing. I agree that we should compare English translations when we study the Bible. I do that a lot. However, I disagree that there is not a best English Bible for church pews, for evangelism and discipleship, for personal Bible reading, and for preaching and teaching. Churches certainly need to pick one version. And they should not pick by throwing a dart. They must decide what version is best. I think that best Bible is the NKJV. But that is based on my view of textual criticism, something which Ward does not discuss.
I like this book. Ward is a good writer and makes a strong case for his position. While I could have wished he included a discussion of the history of the KJV, I highly recommend The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society