The Tongues of Mortals

August 13, 2011 | 76 comments
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There’s a sidebar called “The Poetic Language of the King James Bible” in the August 2011 Ensign.

The text states:

The King James Bible is regarded by many to be the most beautiful English language version because of its lyrical quality, which seems to speak to the heart and spirit.

My first instinct is to pounce on the weasel phrases “regarded by many” and “seems to speak.” But I’ll resist that urge and point out instead that the authors have decided to emphasize the poetic quality of the language instead of clarity or accuracy. (Note that on the next page, the article states this: “Based on the doctrinal clarity of latter-day revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Church has held to the KJV as being doctrinally more accurate than recent versions.” I’ll address the claim of doctrinal clarity later; let’s first talk about garden-variety clarity.) The sidebar then gives three sample texts from the KJV paralleled with the same three texts from other translations. Let’s look at each one.

First, they quote Genesis 1:1-3. (Always good to start at the beginning!) Here’s the KJV:

1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. 3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

And then they quote it from the New International Reader’s Version of the Bible. The NIrV is the NIV written in simpler English so as to be more accessible to people whose English is limited (because it is not their first language, because their literacy is limited, etc.) Here is the NIrV version:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth didn’t have any shape. And it was empty. Darkness was over the surface of the ocean. At that time, the ocean covered the earth. The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. God said, ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light.

First, let me point out that I don’t think it is entirely fair to quote the NIrV, since it has a specialized audience, in order to show that it isn’t as “lyrical” as the KJV. We might just as well quote from the materials that the Church produces for those with limited literacy skills; I can assure you that the Old Testament Stories are no more lyrical than the NIrV. Let’s look then at the NIV:

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

The major changes between it and the KJV are substituting “formless and empty” for “without form, and void,” using “surface” instead of “face” for the deep, using “hover” instead of “move,” and adding quotation marks around God’s speech. I think “hover” is more “lyrical” than “move,” but I suppose that is in the eye of the beholder. The other changes are, according to what I have read from people who know more Hebrew than I do, at least as accurate, if not moreso. They also make it easier to understand. Is being lyrical more important than being accurate and easy to understand? (Again, I’ll get to doctrinal accuracy later.)

The second example in the sidebar is Psalm 23:4; here’s the KJV:

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death . . .

And they give the New Living Translation Bible:

Even when I walk through the darkest valley. . .

The KJV might win the lyricality contest, but the NLT has the virtue of maintaining the concrete imagery (a valley, sheep, grass, water) of the rest of the psalm. I don’t think this one is terribly significant. If the NLT doesn’t “speak to the heart and mind” here but the KJV does, what is that saying about your scripture reading experience?

The third example is 1 Corinthians 13:1-3. (Actually, the citations for both KJV and NRSV say 13:1-3 but the KJV only includes v1-2 while the NRSV includes v1-3. I am assuming this is some sort of formatting error or editing error; I’ll go ahead and include v1-3 of the KJV because I think that was their intention.)

1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

And then the NRSV:

1 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

The big difference here, obviously, is the use of “love” instead of “charity.” This is clearly a case where the non-KJV translation is more accurate: the word here is agape, which the KJV itself normally translates as love. Of 106 instances of agape in the NT, a full 86 are translated as love. In this case, a reader who thinks that Paul is talking about charity (which in the NT is another word entirely and usually translated as “giving alms” or similar), is missing the point of the passage. At this point, who cares if “charity” is more lyrical than “love”? Do we really give up accuracy for poetry?

The shift to “mortals” instead of “men” may offend your aesthetic sensibilities, but is a better choice for the 21st century, where “men” means “male” [ftn1].

Also note that the KJV has “to be burned” where the NRSV has “that I might boast.” The latter reading is better supported by the ancient manuscripts.

I will grant that a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” is a much uglier phrase than “sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal,” but that’s precisely the point! The image here is of an ugly noise! To the extent that “sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal” sounds kind of pleasant to us, it is a poor translation.

We could also, as I have before (here and here), multiply instances where the KJV is so very darn lyrical that it makes no sense. Here is an example from a previous post:

Jeremiah 2:24, first in the KJV:

A wild ass used to the wilderness, that snuffeth up the wind at her pleasure; in her occasion who can turn her away? all they that seek her will not weary themselves; in her month they shall find her.

. . . and the same verse from the NETBible:

You are like a wild female donkey brought up in the wilderness. In her lust she sniffs the wind to get the scent of a male. No one can hold her back when she is in heat. None of the males need wear themselves out chasing after her. At mating time she is easy to find.

Verse 33 is even more fun. The KJV:

Why trimmest thou thy way to seek love? therefore hast thou also taught the wicked ones thy ways.

And the Netbible:

My, how good you have become at chasing after your lovers! Why, you could even teach prostitutes a thing or two!

Yeah, OK, the KJV does have the advantage of obscuring that one from the kids! But it also does that to the rest of the Bible, the part we actually want them to read. I could cite statistics about the relatively small percentage of Americans (not to mention other English-speaking peoples . . .) who have college degrees and therefore may be more equipped to wade through the KJV [ftn2], but that doesn’t touch the fact that one of the primary audiences that we want to understand the Bible is youth, who are completely unequipped to have the “lyricality” of the KJV “speak to the heart and the mind” when they can’t understand the plain sense of the words. This might explain why a disproportionate share of the current seminary manuals is nothing more or less than a vocabulary lesson in the King’s English (see, e.g., this or this). Why do we choose to spend so much of seminary time teaching students what 400-year-old words mean instead of teaching them the scriptures? And might it be simpler to make doctrinal corrections in, say, an NIV than to make linguistic corrections in the KJV, especially for youth?

Thinking about these three examples together, however, my overall impression is this: That’s the best you can do? This is why we read the KJV? You are asking us to give up the improved readability and faithfulness to ancient texts shown on the right-hand column for the (marginal, subjective) gains in “lyricality” in the left-hand column? We’re going to make the scriptures harder to understand for thirteen-year-olds and people who have not been blessed with opportunities for a decent education and people with learning disabilities so that those of us blessed with a better education can have the phrase “tinkling cymbal” speak to our hearts?

******

Now it is time to move on to the issue of “doctrinal accuracy.” It is worth nothing that the KJV has some real doctrinal whoppers; probably the most famous is the Johannine comma. The KJV records 1 John 5:7 as follows:

7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

And here it is in all modern English translations of the Bible

For there are three that testify

That’s right, folks: the only explicitly Trinitarian verse in the entire Bible is . . . only found in the Bible the LDS use (very few non-LDS use the KJV any more). Oh, the irony, it burns!

Another example of questionable doctrinal accuracy in the KJV is the numerous times where the Lord repents, such as Amos 7:3:

3 The Lord repented for this: It shall not be, saith the Lord.

Which, in modern translations is usually translated as “relented” (NRSV) or “decided not to do this” (NET).

I’m not willing to enter some undecidable debate as to which translation is most accurate; the (literally) billions of choices translators must make combined with the multiple possible meanings of texts make this a quagmire for sure. But I am seriously uncomfortable with defending the KJV as the “most accurate” doctrinally, if only because I think it is all too easy for the average person to hear “accurate” instead of “most accurate.” The KJV is not perfect [ftn3]. Neither is any other translation.

I can accept that prophets in the past have claimed the KJV as the official Bible in English; it also seems obvious to me that at some point in the future, that decision will need to be reconsidered as the gap between the King’s English and whatever abomination passes for modern English in the future (LOL!) widens. At that point, it would be nice if we weren’t overloaded with all of the baggage that is our reasoning about the wonderfulness that is the KJV (seeing as how well all of that reasoning worked with the priesthood ban . . .).

So perhaps as we decide which English translation to use (personally, and as a Church), (so-called) doctrinal accuracy and poetry need to be weighed alongside clarity, readability, and faithfulness to the best ancient texts.

*****

[ftn1] From the Church Educational System handbook:

“Some scriptures are couched in masculine language due to the nature of the languages they were derived from. For example, in Hebrew [and in Greek], if one is addressing an audience of all females, feminine forms of verbs and pronouns are used. If the audience is mixed, however, then the masculine forms are always used. . . . teachers need to be sensitive to gender-specific language and remind students that some masculine terms refer to both males and females. When Adam was told that ‘all men, everywhere, must repent’ (Moses 6:57), the Lord was certainly speaking of both men and women. . . . And Job’s statement that the ‘morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy’ (Job 38:7) at the creation of the earth was not meant to imply it was an all male chorus!”

[ftn2] Although I have to admit: I have a BA in English from a decent school and an MA in Biblical Studies, so you’d think the KJV would be cake for me, and it isn’t. I sometimes find in impenetrable until I look at the Hebrew, Greek, and modern English translations.

[ftn3] I find it interesting that LDS have had a variety of opinions as to the inspiration of the KJV authors, with Brigham Young famously saying, “I believe the English Bible is translated as well as any book could be by uninspired men.”

76 Responses to The Tongues of Mortals

  1. Andrew S. on August 13, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    What I don’t get is why some group couldn’t commission a modernized, “lyrical” translation. KJVism seems to be part and parcel with a larger nostalgia for the past. That is to say, these darn kids (who need to get off my lawn) are ruining the English language!

  2. Julie M. Smith on August 13, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    “What I don’t get is why some group couldn’t commission a modernized, “lyrical” translation.”

    It is because whatever poets you hired to work alongside whatever biblical studies people you hired would all kill each other before they got through Genesis 1. ;)

  3. Julie M. Smith on August 13, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    Although, Andrew S., I agree with your larger point that a good portion of the “lyricality” is nothing more than familiarity–we’ve heard it this way all of our lives, and anything else just sounds wrong.

  4. Andrew S. on August 13, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    Re 2:
    I guess we just need more renaissance men (and women), who can both do cutting edge biblical scholarship and write it down for the rest of us.

  5. Michael H. on August 13, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    I was a little perplexed by the choice of the 1909 Reina-Valera for the Spanish edition of the LDS Bible, as opposed to the more commonly-used and more comprehensible (even though still archaic to the point of including the never-used future subjunctive!) 1960 version that was the LDS standard before (which I still whip out in Sunday School when I’m confused by the KJV). Even then, in other languages, considerably more modern versions are used. Arguments about the KJV break down when you cross a couple borders, as do some interpretations that aren’t upheld in non-KJV texts.

  6. Ben B. on August 13, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    Thank you, Julie. I’ve never met anyone who is satisfied to rely exclusively on the KJV after having used a more modern translation in serious scripture study.

    The Church’s real reason for hanging onto the KJV has nothing to do with its superior lyricism and everything to do with its use in the other books of Mormon scripture, which quote the Bible and rely on it in absolutely crucial ways. What are we to do with the other scriptures if we move away from the KJV? Must we change the English Book of Mormon? How much?

    There is not an obvious solution to this problem. It requires scholarly creativity and doctrinal insight, and it requires institutional commitment. It probably requires some revelation. But it is surely not insoluble. We must figure it out, because our connection to the Bible is becoming more tenuous with every generation.

    The Church saw a new awakening of awareness about the Book of Mormon’s value a generation ago when President Benson told us to repent and stop neglecting that book. To the extent that we have heeded that advice, the Book of Mormon has become a more powerful tool for bringing people to Christ. I suspect that we would see a similar reawakening of the Bible’s spiritual power among our people if we can figure out how to make it understandable.

    I’m not well informed about the work that Mormon scholars are already doing along these lines. It would be nice to have some solutions percolating when the institution is ready for them.

  7. Michael H. on August 13, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    6. A very good point. All modern revealed scripture borrows or echoes phrases and terminology from the KJV that would become much more obscure if the KJV weren’t studied (like “work out you own salvation with fear and trembling” in Mormon 9:27, or many phrases from Paul’s letters). I just think we should accept that multiple versions of the Bible are valid (gasp!).

  8. Brad on August 13, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    That the Church has always resisted a Modern English translation of the BOM is a testament to divine revelation. The emergence of search engines makes it clear that they were correct.

    I prefer the old KJV version so I can learn new phrases to use at the Renaissance Fair.

  9. Researcher on August 13, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    My husband and I are currently watching an old movie about Martin Luther. In the movie, he’s just finished his translation of the Bible into German. Are we forgetting the lessons of the Reformation? No, I don’t mean the ones about not carrying on a war for 30 years, or about not burning people at the stake. Are we forgetting that people need the scriptures in their own language? Is the language of the King James Version today becoming the equivalent of Latin to the people in the 16th century?

    “I had perceived by experience, how that it was impossible to stablish the lay people in any truth, except the scripture were plainly laid before their eyes in their mother tongue, that they might see the process, order, and meaning of the text.” (William Tyndale)

    For the record, I like the King James Version. I’ve read it a number of times. It has a special place in my life. I like the sound of the language. When I’m up early in the morning, I like turning on Family Radio and hearing the scripture readings in the King James Version. And it wouldn’t quite feel like Christmas without the King James Version of Luke 2. But despite all that, I very much prefer reading the Einheitsübersetzung, the ecumenical translation of the Bible used by the LDS church in Germany. It’s so much easier to understand.

    Thank you for your clear thoughts about this topic, Julie. For some reason I looked at that sidebar before reading the Ensign article, and it struck me as being so absurd that I never got back to the rest of the article.

  10. Julie M. Smith on August 13, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    Ben S. writes, “The Church’s real reason for hanging onto the KJV has nothing to do with its superior lyricism and everything to do with its use in the other books of Mormon scripture, which quote the Bible and rely on it in absolutely crucial ways.”

    Bingo! That’s why I find the discussion of poetry and doctrinal accuracy so maddening–it isn’t even true on the face of it. We started using the KJV for purely historical reasons and we stick with it because it is the language of the Restoration.

    I am optimistic about a solution to the issue of KJV use in the BoM, and I think it will be technological. I would estimate that the Gospel Doctrine class that I teach has already hit the tipping point with more people using electronic scriptures than paper ones. It then becomes a simple thing to use an app that gives you more than one translation and explains whatever needs explaining. I can envision a BoM footnoted to indicate quotes or allusions to the KJV for people not using a KJV.

    Researcher writes, “Are we forgetting that people need the scriptures in their own language? Is the language of the King James Version today becoming the equivalent of Latin to the people in the 16th century?”

    Nice observation. I also wonder what mainstream Christians with their NIVs think when the missionaries try to teach them with a KJV. It must just seem . . . insane.

  11. John AC on August 13, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    Great post! I was equally struck by the straw man translations and verses used in the Ensign sidebar, and I’ve always thought the point about the “doctrinal accuracy” of the KJV to be pretty specious. If it turns out that the best scholarship and study show that we’ve understood a verse wrong, then it shouldn’t be such a big deal to modify our understanding. Open canon and revelation and all that.

    I’m no Bible scholar, and I’ve been using the Harper Collins Study Bible (RSV) in my reading of the NT this year. It’s completely opened up the NT for me, and despite the looks askance I get in Sunday School, I’ve been recommending it widely.

  12. Kent Larsen on August 13, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    Michael H. (5) wrote:

    I was a little perplexed by the choice of the 1909 Reina-Valera for the Spanish edition of the LDS Bible, as opposed to the more commonly-used and more comprehensible (even though still archaic to the point of including the never-used future subjunctive!) 1960 version that was the LDS standard before

    You are not realizing the problem of copyright laws. The 1909 Reina-Valera is in the public domain, and the Church can modify it as it likes without getting permission. The 1960 Reina-Valera requires permission from the American Bible Society, which, I’m sure, will NOT allow the LDS Church to reprint their version, let alone modify it.

    In the op, Julie wrote:

    And might it be simpler to make doctrinal corrections in, say, an NIV than to make linguistic corrections in the KJV, especially for youth?

    Same problem here. Yes it might be easier to correct the NIV, but it seems unlikely that Biblica (the former The New York Bible Society) will give permission for such modification.

    Regardless of what the articles in the Ensign might say, I believe that the copyright issues are a major impediment, especially when the translation isn’t in English. [English has the BOM impediment that Ben B. referred to in 6.]

  13. Michael H. on August 13, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    Kent (12):

    Thank you for that clarification! I had not considered copyright issues. The choice makes more sense now.

  14. Julie M. Smith on August 13, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    “Yes it might be easier to correct the NIV, but it seems unlikely that Biblica (the former The New York Bible Society) will give permission for such modification.”

    I wasn’t envisioning making actual changes to a Bible text, but rather having teachers explain doctrinal problems (if any) as opposed to having teachers spend time explaining archaic words.

    I can see where a desire to add LDS footnotes and chapter headings would come up with some of the copyright issues with new translations. This shouldn’t be an issue, however, if all we want to do is, say, sell a stack of NIVs at a Distribution Center, or encourage people to consult another English translation, or use the NET Bible (which is specifically designed to mitigate copyright issues related to ministerial usage).

  15. Kai Sanders on August 13, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    @Andrew S.: There IS a more lyrical, modernized version. It’s called “The Message”. It’s actually quite interesting how it reads.

    Other than that, I think we need to realize that if people aren’t reading the Bible in The Church it isn’t going to matter what version we use.

    I have found for myself that using the Institute Manual and praying for inspiration as I study have helped. I am also aware being “cross-culturally trained” (as I’ll describe it), that other versions are available as opposed to some who are staunch members with no thought that anything other than the KJV is acceptable simply because it’s The Church’s authorized version.

    I think it’s sad to not realize or truly understand what is meant when we state in the Articles of Faith that the Bible is the word of God as far as it is translated correctly. Doesn’t that tell us something?

    Thank you for the post.

    God’s continued blessings. Always…(s.m.i.l.e.)

  16. Janell on August 13, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    Yeaaah… I read that Ensign article, declared it “KJV propaganda,” and moved on. I also wondered if and how that particular article was translated in the Leahona. I do wish there was greater ability when teaching to sub in NIV, full Joseph Smith translation, or other revisions when it is suitable. That said, I’m content using KJV as a primary reference and the others as supplementary.

    I do appreciate the recent great emphasis on the Bible within the church. So often I feel members say, “A Book of Mormon, a Book of Mormon, we have a Book of Mormon, why do we need a Bible?”

  17. Kevin Barney on August 13, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    I saw that little sidebar in the Ensign, and didn’t really focus on it. Thanks for this (excellent) treatment of it, Julie. Here’s a post I wrote that was inspired by one of your previous posts along these lines:

    http://bycommonconsent.com/2006/04/26/little-less-than-god/

  18. Ben B. on August 13, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    From the comments here and in the thread that Kevin linked to in 17, it’s clear that some people have given this problem more than casual consideration. This is one of those issues where there appears to be a harmful disconnect between well-meaning discussion in the bloggernacle (among other places) and the well-meaning discussion that’s going in the Church’s hierarchy.

    As Julie has suggested, insistence on ignoring the actual reasons (historical and institutional reasons) for using the KJV makes it more difficult to discuss the things that practically obstruct progress on this issue. I’m afraid that exhorting people to appreciate the beautiful language of the KJV is just not that helpful when there’s a more basic problem of intelligibility. Articles like the one in the August Ensign make it a little bit less likely that thinkers and scholars will address the real issues in official or quasi-official settings, and, therefore, less likely that practical solutions will rise to the attention of Church leaders.

    On the other hand, this seems like a situation where good scholarly work will break through institutional resistance. In the long run, few things can help the Church more than enhancing the members’ ability to draw knowledge and inspiration from the scriptures.

  19. Bob on August 13, 2011 at 6:41 pm

    Well, you can own more than one style of Bible__there’s that.

  20. Dan on August 13, 2011 at 8:33 pm

    personally I like the NRSV and do use it in my gospel doctrine class for clarification purposes.

    I like Hebrews 11:1 as an excellent example of how the KJV isn’t that good. The KJV has it as:

    “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

    In our LDS version, there is a footnote for the word “substance” which reads:

    “GR assurance, basis, foundation. JST Heb. 11:1 … assurance of things hoped for …”

    Or in other words, the original Greek word means assurance. And just in case we’re still in doubt, Joseph Smith himself corrected it with the word “assurance.”

    The NRSV has it:

    “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

  21. goosie on August 13, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    16: Yes, it is heartening to see that there is a greater emphasis on the Bible in the Church. Now let’s see if it will come to mean more than 1. Emphasizing the need to use the KJV only and 2. Confining Bible usage to cherry-picking proof-texts to support unique LDS doctrines.

  22. J. Stapley on August 13, 2011 at 10:51 pm

    I really enjoyed the post. I also think that Ronan’s presentation/posts on unity and the KJV is crucial to understanding Mormon usage. At they end of the day, I think we are all better off if we can at least be honest about why we use it. The institutional appologetics surrounding KJV seem completely ridiculous.

  23. Cameron N on August 13, 2011 at 11:36 pm

    I think the main reason the church still uses the KJV in English is that it would be much too expensive to make an official change, in conjunction with the ‘language of the restoration’ point you made. I doubt the Ensign editors consulted BYU religion professors on the subject, as both of my new testament classes frequently referred to 2 or 3 additional versions to clarify certain things.

    I still prefer the KVJ language, although sometimes a more modern translation may have a better word here or there (I like ‘conviction’), or explain vague old testament condemnations more explicitly (loved the ‘prostitute’ line!)

  24. BillyBud on August 14, 2011 at 1:05 am

    We are forgetting that all of this shall soon be irrelevant, thanks to digital technology, and the death of the printed word.

    Already, a third of my congregation brings their scriptures to church on their mobile devices.

    Already, there are Bible apps that seamlessly and easily compare various translations.

    After books are dead, the LDS church can create a scripture app that has a default KJV, but that also has instant cross referencing to various other translations, or explanations of the Greek or Hebrew originals. If the reader senses any lack of clarity in the KJV, they can simply click on a word or sentence and various other translations and explanations will be immediately available.

  25. MC on August 14, 2011 at 1:29 am

    “We must figure it out, because our connection to the Bible is becoming more tenuous with every generation.”

    I don’t think this has anything to do with our use of the KJV. According to Pew, Mormons score higher on Biblical knowledge than any other religious group. I’m not saying that we do better because of the KJV, although that’s possible. Maybe we are less connected to the Bible than past generations, but that’s in the midst of a worldwide trend towards intellectual laziness and the declining pervasiveness of Christian culture. If the KJV were hurting us, wouldn’t we see a greater decline in biblical knowledge among Mormons than among those churches which have adopted the “Totally Cool Dude’s Translation of the Holy Bible”?

    All of this strikes me as the “If the Church has been doing it this way for a long time, it must be wrong” thinking that is pretty typical in the Bloggernacle.

  26. MC on August 14, 2011 at 1:37 am

    “But I am seriously uncomfortable with defending the KJV as the “most accurate” doctrinally, if only because I think it is all too easy for the average person to hear “accurate” instead of “most accurate.” The KJV is not perfect [ftn3]. Neither is any other translation.”

    Yes, if only we drilled it into people’s heads from their primary days onward that we only believe in the Bible as far as it is translated correctly.

    Oh, wait…

  27. Julie M. Smith on August 14, 2011 at 8:42 am

    MC, if you take a look at the questions that Pew asked here:

    http://pewforum.org/uploadedFiles/Topics/Belief_and_Practices/religious-knowledge-topline.pdf

    you can see that they are not exactly detail questions where intimate knowledge matters; they are more along the lines of “How many gospels can you name?” So I’m neither surprised nor impressed that LDS did well, and the results are not in any way a vote of confidence for the KJV.

    “All of this strikes me as the “If the Church has been doing it this way for a long time, it must be wrong” thinking that is pretty typical in the Bloggernacle.”

    Well, your attitude strikes me as the “All is well in Zion” thinking that is also pretty typical of the Bloggernacle, so I guess we are even. ;)

  28. Bob on August 14, 2011 at 9:23 am

    BillyBud,
    I do agree, this may come down to digital technology as much as anything. It may take five or ten years. But I can’t see the KJV coming out the winner. So I do believe the Church must make plans for when this does happens.

  29. Naismith on August 14, 2011 at 10:39 am

    Julie, thanks so much for this thoughtful discussion.

    I was at a funeral this week in which the decedent was married to a baptist, and since of course the service is for the bereaved, his minister was invited to give a spiritual message, although it was held at our chapel and presided over by our bishop, who also gave a spiritual message after.

    I was reading along with the baptist guy’s quotes, except clearly not the same version. What he said made so much more sense:)

  30. DavidH on August 14, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    I understand the copyright issues with the Reina Valera versions in Spanish. But is it coincidence that the version now used by the Church uses “caridad” (charity) rather than “amor” (love) in 1 Corinthians 13? I never grasped those passages until I was a missionary using the more updated Reina Valera version in Spanish using the word amor–suddenly the passages made sense on their face. Now our Spanish speaking brothers and sisters can start wrestling with such archaic uses of charity as well as us.

  31. MC on August 14, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    Ms. Smith,
    Not only have I already looked at the Pew questions, I took the test. You seem to be missing my point. I agree that Mormons’ performance on the test was by no means impressive. But with regard to the bilbical questions, it was, in fact, better than any other religious group. Which makes me doubt that the key to improvement in Biblical knowledge is to emulate religious groups that are doing more poorly than we are.

    I see as well as you do that not all is well in Zion. But when the members of the Church become more like the World, I believe that is is reasonable infer that it is the World which is pulling us that direction, not any Church policy. For example, you worry that “average” people in the Church might lazily assume that the KJV is a “perfect” translation. And maybe they will. But, given 1) the Book of Mormon’s statements about “plain and precious” things being taken from the bible, and 2)the Book of Mormon being the “most correct” book, and 3) the 8th Article of Faith, and 4) Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible, aren’t “average” Mormons just about the least likely group of Christians to assume the Bible is flawless? If anything, the danger I have seen among the members of the Church is that they will see the Bible as less perfect than the Book of Mormon and therefore less worthy of study. This runs counter to your concern that they are more prone to accept the KJV uncritically.

    Just for fun:
    “I have heard some make the broad assertion that every word within the lids of the Bible was the word of God. I have said to them, ‘You have never read the Bible, have you?'”
    -Brigham Young

  32. Kent Larsen on August 14, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    A quibble with Billy Bud (24):

    We are forgetting that all of this shall soon be irrelevant, thanks to digital technology, and the death of the printed word.

    First, it remains to be seen that the printed word will exactly die. Despite technological advances, many, many technologies persist in altered forms. The rise of digital versions does not necessarily mean that printed versions will cease to exist, at least not for decades to come.

    Second, “digital technology” will not necessarily make this issue irrelevant. Just because biblical translations are available digitally does not mean that they will somehow be merged into a common e-book. If the American Bible Society won’t allow the LDS Church to publish a version of its 1960 Reina Valera edition of the Bible in Spanish, why do you think it would allow their version to be included in an e-book that includes other versions and LDS scriptures (which is, after all, what LDS audiences will want)?

    The copyright on the Reina Valera in the U.S. doesn’t expire until 2055. The English-language NIV New Testament expires in 2068. I’m sure other versions are even later under current law (assuming that the law doesn’t change). It seems the nirvana you envision is perhaps half a century away. At my age I can truly say, “I should live so long!!”

  33. jose on August 14, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    The LDS church uses the LDS-published KJV as part of their official scriptures–this has been the case for the last 30+ years. That is their prerogative to establish a standard. It seems their criteria is based on 1)comparison to modern scripture, 2) conforms to our doctrine (like the charity example above), 3)that’s what the GA’s grew up with, and 4) the poetry. As for me, I use the NIV study bible simply because I can understand it (and for the great study aids). As we read from the OT as a family, I use the NIV, mom uses the KJV. The kids generally vote with their feet and come to my side and read my NIV.

  34. Kent Larsen on August 14, 2011 at 4:22 pm

    DavidH (30) wrote:

    I understand the copyright issues with the Reina Valera versions in Spanish. But is it coincidence that the version now used by the Church uses “caridad” (charity) rather than “amor” (love) in 1 Corinthians 13?

    While I certainly understand the complaint about using “charity” (in English) and “caridad” (in Spanish), I’m not sure that using “love” is necessarily better.

    Both words have many definitions, even in modern use. “Love” can as easily mean ‘a sexual act’ as it can ‘love between spouses’ or ‘love between best friends,’ or ‘love of fellow man.’ “Charity” can mean anything in English from ‘money donated to alleviate suffering’ to ‘love of fellow man.’ I’d bet that in Spanish there are more than a few definitions for these words also.

    I haven’t studied the frequency of various definitions in modern usage, let alone how different those usages might be in different parts of the world, so I can’t really say anything much about how well one meaning might be better than another. I can’t even say that I know very well what the original word in Greek might mean (please don’t define it for me, I’ve heard the various explanations of agape v. other Greek words for love). I do know enough about translation to say that often there is no “best” word to use–each has its advantages, and the choice of which to use depends a lot on how we balance things like poetry or literary quality, doctrinal accuracy, clarity, readability, and faithfulness to the original text(s). And many of these depend on who your audience is.

    Personally, I prefer “charity” over “love” in 1 Cor 13. I like the distinction that it gives from the pedestrian “love” used in everyday conversation. And it seems to me that these words have overlapping definitions (perhaps because of the KVJ 1 Cor 13’s effect on English). But, I do see that many populations might not understand it as well as “love.” Perhaps some linguistics doctoral student has studied the modern use of these words and has or will write a dissertation or report on what the geography, class, educational level and usage of the various meanings of these two words. This may clear up, or perhaps even make more muddy, the choice of words in 1 Cor 13.

    The point I’m trying to make is simply that this is all very subjective and complicated. The only way I can see to simplify it is by only looking to my own needs — exactly what the Church, or a publisher, or a translator can not do.

    Yes I see weaknesses in the KJV. The other translations all have weaknesses of different kinds. I’m not expert enough to know which to choose for a multi-national organization like the Church and I’m not even sure I understand all the limitations on what translations the Church could choose. [I do know copyright is one consideration.]

    If I read her correctly, Julie seems to be asking 1) for the Church to be more forthright about why the KJV and what members can do about it, and 2) suggesting to members that they use more than one translation to really understand the text. I certainly can endorse that.

  35. Julie M. Smith on August 14, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    MC, I’m sorry, but you have lost me–can you point to which question(s) from the Pew study use of a modern English translation would make hard to answer? Because all I am seeing are softballs along the lines of “Who led the exodus?” and I’m thinking that one’s ability to answer that question has no relation to which translation one uses and the only reasonable conclusion is that the differences in biblical literacy between LDS and others have to do with factors other than translation choice.

  36. Julie M. Smith on August 14, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    Kent, you have read me right. I would just add that I don’t think it is just me suggesting that members can use other translations; I believe you are already aware of this, but for the benefit of others who are reading, it is worth noting that other translations have been quoted in General Conference. I conclude from that that it is acceptable to use other translations for personal study and teaching in at least some situations.

  37. Bob on August 14, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    Kent Larsen,
    I see some weaken in your thinking of digital form.
    Yes, the printing press did not stop hand writing. But I wonder how many Bibles were hand written after that time?
    I am sure books you read today also come from some digital form.
    The KJV must withstand ALL digital tools used against it,(such as hugh databases, etc.), if it’s is going to remain useful to the common man.
    As to Copy Rights__if China can made money off of ‘Pirated Bibles’__they will.

  38. MC on August 14, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    “the only reasonable conclusion is that the differences in biblical literacy between LDS and others have to do with factors other than translation choice.”

    I couldn’t agree more. You’ll recall that I originally brought up Pew to counter Ben’s claim that we had to carefully move away from the KJV because “our connection to the Bible is becoming more tenuous with every generation.” If the KJV were to blame for that, why is it that the denomination which has most successfully retained even a minor amount of Biblical knowledge happens to be the one that most stronly adheres to the KJV? If we’ve got a Biblical knowledge problem (and I think we could definitely stand to improve) it isn’t because we use the KJV.

  39. Dave R on August 14, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    MC, we finish third in that survey, behind the categories of ‘Atheists / Agnostics’ and Jewish. Furthermore, Mormons who don’t attend church regularly are much less likely to identify as LDS. On the other hand, irregularly attending Catholics and Protestants are quite likely to affiliate with their churches (and thus, pull down their faith’s average score). So if we compared those who self identify as Mormons to regularly attending Catholics and Protestants, how do you think we would do? . . . Yeah, i think the results would look much different, too.

  40. MC on August 14, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    Dave,
    If you look more carefully, we finished first in knowledge of “Christianity/The Bible”. Atheists and Jews did slightly better when you include questions about Hinduism, Buddhism and other religions not often encountered in Idaho and Utah.

    Once again (and again, and again), I’m not crowing about the Pew results. I was using them to make the limited point that using more modern translations of the Bible has not helped other denominations to be able to maintain even a minimal amount of familiarity with the Bible.

    Are you guys really arguing that the KJV causes Mormons to know less about the Bible than they would otherwise? The kind of person who studies the Bible regularly is not the type of person who struggles with thees and thous. If anything, the people I know who love reading the scriptures delight in delving into the wording and trying to understand it. Maybe we know different people.

  41. Julie M. Smith on August 14, 2011 at 7:52 pm

    “Are you guys really arguing that the KJV causes Mormons to know less about the Bible than they would otherwise?”

    Yes! A hundred times yes! Absolutely!

  42. Kent Larsen on August 14, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    Bob (37), I publish books both in print and digitally. I’m well acquainted with both digital technologies, copyright laws and piracy and print technologies.

    I’ll admit that I could be wrong in my views of what will happen with books in the future. But historically technologies just don’t shift as fast or as completely as people think they will today.

    But I also don’t think this is the place or the post to explore the issue. Its also probably pointless to argue about something that will only be resolved at some point in the future.

  43. Julie M. Smith on August 14, 2011 at 8:01 pm

    MC, to address your larger issue, the Pew study doesn’t tell us anything useful about our use of the KJV. It would if we had a random sample of Mormons who only used, say, the NRSV, for a generation and then we tested the NRSV Mormons and the KJV Mormons and saw whose biblical literacy was higher.

    But I am willing to bet the farm on the idea that once you get past softball questions, the NRSV Mormons would blow the KJV Mormons out of the water.

  44. MC on August 14, 2011 at 8:03 pm

    “Yes! A hundred times yes! Absolutely!”

    Well, you might possibly be right. But I haven’t seen any evidence to suggest that’s true, and that’s why I cited Pew, which is the only survey I can think of that compares the Biblical knowledge of KJV users with non-KJV users.

    Let me humbly suggest that a person who can’t even name the writers of the four gospels, and who has trouble parsing thees and thous, is unlikely, once released from the shackles of the KJV, to undertake the sort of careful comparison of translations that you have ably demonstrated above. Let me also humbly suggest that someone who winces at words like “sepulchre” probably didn’t read the Ensign article on the KJV anyway. So your worries seem unfounded to me.

  45. Dave R on August 14, 2011 at 8:18 pm

    MC, again, does the Pew survey compare KJV users to non-KJV users or does it compare people who attend church for three hours a week to the general American population?

    I’ll second Julie’s assertion. Adopting the KJV as our church’s Bible translation of choice all but guarantees the membership will read the Bible far less and therefore never gain a reasonable level of comfort / knowledge of that scripture.

    To clarify, I would never argue that it’s JUST the language of the KJV that keeps members from reading the Bible — just a contributing factor. When Sunday School makes the Bible seem boring, unnecessary, and redundant, that doesn’t help much, either.

  46. Al on August 14, 2011 at 9:00 pm

    All translations have a point of view. They have to. I prefer translations by people who profoundly believe in Jesus Christ and the resurrection which I really do feel in the KJV. Some of the other translations that I regularly review make me wonder if the translator has any faith.

    The use of the KJV will change. I suspect that someday the language of the Book of Mormon will be seen as too archaic and we’ll have an English to English translation.

    But such changes should happen slowly.

  47. Sam Brunson on August 14, 2011 at 9:10 pm

    Even leaving aside the comprehension problems—even assuming that the KJV is as readable as another version—there is, in my experience, some advantage to reading a less-familiar translation. I can’t skim through the language I grew up with as easily, and the language disconnect forces me to pay closer attention to the text. But the simple fact is, I am really enjoying the Tanakh translation of the Hebrew Bible that I’m reading (along, naturally, with the sidenotes); the language is relative clear, and it points out where the language is unclear.

    Also, even if the KJV were the best, easiest translation out there, the way it’s printed, in verses rather than paragraphs, does horrible things for our understanding. Even if we were just to paragraph it, like every other modern translation I look at, my ability to read the KJV would increase a whole lot.

  48. MC on August 14, 2011 at 9:22 pm

    Dave,
    It compares Mormons to Catholics, Protestants, Jews, etc. If there is another major denomination that uses the KJV exclusively, I am unaware of it. (Episcopalians? Even that would surprise me…)

    We’ll have to agree to disagree about whether the KJV is really holding people back from reading the Bible. I remain highly skeptical. According to Christian Smith in “Soul Searching”, among teenagers (the most likely demographic group to tune out Elizabethan English) Mormon kids read scriptures and other religious books substantially more than kids of any other religion, Christian or otherwise. Of course if I had any reason to believe that moving away from the KJV would help us “extend our lead” I would be all for it, but I just haven’t seen any evidence of that and it doesn’t jibe with my experience.

    But here’s where we can find a point of agreement: Mormons would get a lot more out of the Bible if Gospel Doctrine teachers would prepare their lessons sometime prior to Sacrament Meeting.

    If I had to pick one reason why we see so much Biblical illiteracy among everyone, certainly not just Mormons, I would say it’s the same reason we see so much historical illiteracy: We just don’t demand enough of young people in the way of deep study. We make them sit in classrooms all day long, but we just ask them to regurgitate the same old answers, either on a test, or in Sunday School. How can we expect people to know anything if we let them skate by without knowing it?

  49. MC on August 14, 2011 at 9:34 pm

    “But I am willing to bet the farm on the idea that once you get past softball questions, the NRSV Mormons would blow the KJV Mormons out of the water.”

    I guess we’ll never know. All I really care about is having our young missionaries know the Bible better than the preacher who antis their investigators, and better than the blowhard Philosophy 101 professor who tries to destroy their faith. You can do that with either version.

    I will say that I think the peculiar wording of the KJV makes phrases stick in our minds more, which is pretty key to having it given to us in the very moment what we shall say.

  50. Kent Larsen on August 14, 2011 at 11:03 pm

    Sam (47) wrote:

    there is, in my experience, some advantage to reading a less-familiar translation. I can’t skim through the language I grew up with as easily, and the language disconnect forces me to pay closer attention to the text.

    I agree. I’ve gotten quite a lot out of reading the scriptures in other, less familiar, languages for the same reason.

  51. Bob on August 14, 2011 at 11:29 pm

    MC:
    “Mormon kids read scriptures and other religious books substantially more than kids of any other religion, Christian or otherwise”.
    Even more than the Quran?
    The Quran had a much bigger hill to get over in the modern world than the KJV of the Bible__and has made some good progress.

  52. MC on August 14, 2011 at 11:45 pm

    Bob,
    I believe that Christian Smith said that there weren’t enough Muslim teenagers in his survey to make the results statistically significant. So I’m not sure if Mormons spend more time in religious study than Muslims.

  53. Michelle on August 15, 2011 at 10:11 am

    Julie, Thanks for this interesting discussion. As a newbie in this area, I have no experience with anything but the KJV. What translation do you see as the most accurate and comprehensible that could be used in conjunction with the KJV?

  54. Julie M. Smith on August 15, 2011 at 10:56 am

    Michelle, there isn’t one that is universally best, but the NETBible has the advantages of:

    1. being free online
    2. having lots of footnotes to explain difficult translation choices, although some are very technical
    3. having hyperlinks to a half dozen other translations

    For a print version, you could go with the NIV or NRSV.

  55. Al on August 15, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    I think that many versions of the Bible are free on-line:

    http://www.blueletterbible.org/ this has many versions.
    http://biblos.com/ likewise

    and there are many apps for mobile devices as well that allow access to multiple translations.

  56. Kent Larsen on August 15, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    Yes, Al, but none of these exists for an LDS audience — including LDS-oriented footnotes, links to the extra-biblical LDS scriptures (BOM, D&C, PoGP), etc.

    I’m not sure that anyone will be able to get permission to use the in-copyright translations of the bible in an LDS-oriented project.

    But, I would love it if someone could prove me wrong.

  57. Julie M. Smith on August 15, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    Kent, sorry to keep bringing it up, but NETBible would work.

  58. Kent Larsen on August 15, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    Sorry, Julie, but I’m not seeing it. I just visited NETBible, and couldn’t find any references to LDS views or scriptures in 1 Cor 15:29, where you would think they would be.

    Have I misunderstood you? Does NETBible somehow have links to LDS scriptures that I’ve missed?

    I’m confused by what you claim!

  59. Julie M. Smith on August 15, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    Oh, not that they have LDS links but that their copyright is designed to allow for ease of use. More info here, you’ll have to scroll down:

    http://bible.org/article/preface-net-bible-first-edition

    I suppose they might deny permission to an LDS organization as not supporting “ministry,” so maybe I am overestimating here.

  60. Kent Larsen on August 15, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    Yes, I think you are overestimating. Their doctrinal statement is clearly trinitarian, and their copyright statement indicates that they are limiting how their translation can be redistributed, so I doubt an LDS organization could get permission to use their translation.

    BUT, I will say that their site and resources are fantastic–a valuable online tool for any student of the bible. The translator’s notes are as extensive as I’ve seen anywhere online.

    [The notes in the various volumes of the print-only Anchor Bible and other book-by-book commentaries are probably more extensive, but at about $20 a volume used, acquiring these commentaries is prohibitive for most bible students. Even so, I’ll probably check NETBible along with the book-by-book commentaries because I doubt either has everything.]

  61. Dave R on August 15, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    Hi MC, you may have misunderstood my reply or, more likely, I wasn’t very clear, but, yes, i’m well aware that we are the only major church still cleaving unto the KJV.

    I appreciated your attempt to find common ground in your last reply (always a good thing), so i hate to disagree with you, but I think it illustrates the major difference we have on this topic. To me, ill-prepared sunday school teachers don’t rank very high on the list of problems we have concerning our use of the Bible.

    My undestanding of your position (and I appologize if this isn’t correct), is that, overall, you’re pleased with the Church’s understanding of biblical scripture — if not always by the membership, than by our leadership and those who prepare manuals. You generally approve of the traditional approach we take to reading and interpreting scripture. Where there are failings, they essentially belong to members who sometimes fail to execute an essentially good plan (you cite teachers who don’t prepare or who don’t demand enough from their students).

    On the other hand, I don’t see a problem with execution, per say. I see more of a problem with the plan itself. To me, our failings with regard to the Bible are more institutional (I see similar failings in many other churches). My position is that we have more to learn about the Bible than we realize, including many important insights from modern scholarship, and I worry we don’t understand the most fundamental issues of biblical scripture — who’s speaking?, what genre is the literature?, who’s the intended audience?, what is the motivation to discuss this topic? etc.

    Essentially, i think if you could improve one thing with regards to the Bible in our church, you would improve the teaching. On the other hand, I would wish to change what’s being taught. To me, our use of the KJV is one more example of the Church’s unwillingness to expand its understanding of scripture. To you, our use of the KJV honors our scriptural heritage. Did I sum that up fairly?

  62. Ben B. on August 15, 2011 at 9:19 pm

    I’m late to respond, but for what it’s worth:

    When I wrote that Mormons are losing their connection to the Bible, I didn’t have in mind any kind of objective measure of Bible knowledge, such as the Pew study. I was thinking about my impressions of the way that Bible study works in the lives of the people I know. My strong impression is that the Bible means less in the personal spiritual lives of many, many Mormons than it did a generation or two ago. In my experience, many Mormons speak about the deep, compelling spiritual power of the Book of Mormon, but I seldom hear that kind of testimony about the Bible.

    I want to see the Church help its members use a more understandable version of the Bible because I want to see the Bible have something like the same spiritual influence as the Book of Mormon.

    Incidentally, I think a more readable Bible would help us understand the Book of Mormon better too. For most readers, the most opaque sections of the Book of Mormon are quotations from and commentary on Isaiah. Better of understanding of Isaiah would open up some of the most beautiful teachings of the Book of Mormon to a lot of us who struggle with those passages.

  63. MC on August 16, 2011 at 1:31 am

    Dave,

    I’m not all that concerned about “honoring our scriptural heritage,” and I don’t really think we ought to sacrifice scriptural understanding in order to do so. I happen to greatly prefer the language of the KJV, but since I do read the Bible in a couple of other languages I can see how an alternate translation might deepen understanding.

    After further reflection, I think we have much different ideas about what the real problem is. My original post was a response to Ben’s statement that we are losing a connection to the Bible, and that moving away from the KJV was the solution. I agree with him that young people in particular know less and less about the Bible and study it with less depth. Where I disagree with him is that the KJV is to blame. That’s why I brought up Pew, to show that the shallowness of Biblical understanding is far from particular to our Church which uses the KJV. If I had to guess, I would say it stems from the dumbing down of school curriculum (both public school and Sunday school) and maybe even more so the banishment of the study of Christianity from schools, even as a matter of historical and cultural study.

    Now, I take you to be arguing that if we used some translation other than the KJV that our youth would have a much greater understanding of the Bible, and that if we do better than other denominations it despite the KJV. Could be; like I said, in my experience people either study the Bible or they don’t, and the translation one uses is beside the point. My non-Mormon friends who read the Bible would read it even if it were the KJV, because they want to understand God. This is an empirical question that there probably isn’t sufficiently convincing evidence to resolve.

    What the Pew numbers tell me is that we have a severe lack of even the most basic Biblical study among Mormons and non-Mormons alike. When you and Ms. Smith talk about all these theological nuances that you believe are obscured by the KJV, all I can say is that those are nuances that most people in the Church wouldn’t end up studying if they had 100 Bibles to compare and contrast. If 25% of self-identified Mormons (or whatever the percentage is) can’t name the four gospels, then we have a much more basic problem than whether to call it a “tinkling cymbal” or a “clanging cymbal” (to use just one example). I mean, that’s a very interesting point, and I might bring it up in Sunday School. I’m just not convinced it’s a matter of great concern.

    I don’t mean to imply that the deeper interpretation is unimportant; it’s the reason I come to blogs like this. But blaming the KJV for the lack of biblical literacy just seems way beside the point to me, like blaming the inscrutability of Stephen Hawking’s books for kids’ poor performance on science tests. I can see why someone might think that kids were being turned off by the hard language of the KJV. I just disagree that that’s the real cause of our problems. Our education has become so dumbed down that pretty soon most kids won’t want to or be able to read anything more sophisticated than a comic book, let alone the NRSV. To me, that’s the real problem.

  64. Ben S on August 16, 2011 at 3:46 am

    Nice post. I had some issues with that Ensign article, as you might guess…

    Historically speaking, no one recognized the lyricality or beauty of the KJV for a few hundred years. In fact, it garnered criticism on that score. Given the current beautification efforts by the Church, my cycnism of the lyricality defense is tempered a bit, but generally I wonder why beauty takes precendence over comprehensibility.

  65. Ben S on August 16, 2011 at 3:47 am

    Also, Ben B. and Ben S. are not the same people.

  66. Ben B. on August 16, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    MC wrote: “I can see why someone might think that kids were being turned off by the hard language of the KJV. I just disagree that that’s the real cause of our problems. Our education has become so dumbed down that pretty soon most kids won’t want to or be able to read anything more sophisticated than a comic book, let alone the NRSV. To me, that’s the real problem. ”

    I don’t think that Mormons generally lack a willingness to engage with the scriptures. That goes for kids as well as adults. My impression is that the Book of Mormon has a bigger place in the spiritual lives of Mormons than it did twenty or thirty years ago, but the same is not true of the Bible. If we can figure out how to get the Book of Mormon into more people’s hearts, then we should be able to do the same for the Bible. Using a more understandable translation is a necessary part of the solution.

    Ben S. wrote: “Also, Ben B. and Ben S. are not the same people.”

    That’s correct. Sorry if my moniker caused confusion.

  67. Dave R on August 16, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    Please, MC, you know I’m not arguing for more ‘theological nuance’. I’m glad you’ve had great success with the KJV. For me, trying to read something like Isaiah in the KJV results in frustration and fatigue. While using good, modern translations allows me to understand with clarity the beauty and significance of the message. I enjoy reading and so I read it much more. That’s why I’m not moved by Ensign messages congratulating the Church on standing by the KJV, while our foolish Christian neighbours abandon wisdom for inferior translations.

    I agree that swapping out the KJV would do little by itself to improve understanding. Further I think if those who construct our curriculum took the bible seriously, we could overcome most of the inadequacies of the KJV. But restricting non-KJV bibles from entering through church doors only seems a wise policy if we desire our membership to continue using the bible as a study aid or resource guide instead of scripture worthy to study by itself.

  68. MC on August 16, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    “Please, MC, you know I’m not arguing for more ‘theological nuance’.”

    I wasn’t trying to mischaracterize your views. “Theological nuance” was merely shorthand for this:
    “I worry we don’t understand the most fundamental issues of biblical scripture — who’s speaking?, what genre is the literature?, who’s the intended audience?, what is the motivation to discuss this topic? etc.”
    Maybe “literary nuance” would have been a better way to put it. It wouldn’t occur to me that theological nuance is a bad thing, and I didn’t intend it as such.

    “But restricting non-KJV bibles from entering through church doors…”

    C’mon, nobody is doing that, not even symbolically. Have you ever known anyone who got grief for studying other translations? I’ve often cited passages in my Spanish scriptures which seem to say something more clearly than the KJV. No one has ever chastised me, and usually the response is quite favorable. “The Ensign is wrong and we would learn more if we were more open to alternate translations” is a perfectly reasonable argument. Let’s not turn it into into a claim of intellectual oppression.

  69. MC on August 16, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    “My impression is that the Book of Mormon has a bigger place in the spiritual lives of Mormons than it did twenty or thirty years ago, but the same is not true of the Bible. If we can figure out how to get the Book of Mormon into more people’s hearts, then we should be able to do the same for the Bible. Using a more understandable translation is a necessary part of the solution.”

    But somehow we were able to increase appreciation and use of the Book of Mormon without updating the wording (which was somewhat antiquated even in the early 1800s). The increase in interest in the BofM was primarily due to exhortations by Pres. Benson and the accompanying emphasis in Church curriculum, was it not? The book itself changed not at all. Doesn’t that suggest that we could do the same for the Bible without changing translations?

    You may be right that we have to change translations to get people to read it more, but what evidence do you have to support that?

  70. Ben B. on August 16, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    Reading modern translations of the Bible has opened the book to me, and I have seen it do the same for some others. I read the Bible more often and with more imagination when I use a newer translation. Perhaps this is something like your experience when reading the Bible in other languages, MC?

    I have always found the Book of Mormon markedly easier to understand than the KJV, despite its apparently antiquated language. I have no special insight about why this is so. I can only say that to me, the Book of Mormon is about as easy to understand as other revelations to Joseph Smith, which sound like they were written by a literate American of the early nineteenth century.

    Exhortations from the prophets would surely be useful in helping Mormons read the Bible more. Maybe one reason we haven’t seen that kind of effort yet is that there is still some groundwork to be laid – like finding a more understandable text! I’m skeptical that exhortations like the one in the August Ensign will bear much fruit.

  71. MC on August 16, 2011 at 7:30 pm

    “I’m skeptical that exhortations like the one in the August Ensign will bear much fruit.”

    I’m sure it will take much more than that. On my mission I used to have elders tell me that they didn’t feel like they needed to know the Bible all that well because they had the Book of Mormon, and all that Biblical knowledge would just tempt them to “bash”. These missionaries were at a decided disadvantage in trying to eliminate their investigators’ doubts about certain Biblical passages.

    My position was and is that it is embarrassing for the ambassadors of the Lord’s true and living Church not to understand the Bible better than anyone else they come into contact with. If we have the fulness of the Gospel, we ought to have a more complete understanding of all our scriptures. Plus, I would point out to them that Joseph Smith spent most of his time preaching from the Bible, not the Book of Mormon.

    By the way, I’m glad you found a translation that helped you understand the Bible better. For purposes of having a unified curriculum, it’s inevitable that one translation be the “official” one. I, for one, am glad it’s the KJV, but of course it’s fine when we seek light wherever we can. After all, Joseph Smith cited the German translation of the Bible in the King Follett discourse.

  72. Dave R on August 16, 2011 at 8:24 pm

    MC, I hadn’t realize that you considered subjects of authorship, audience, setting, and genre to be ‘nuance.’ While you indicate you don’t think there a bad thing, you also said your “not convinced it’s a matter of great concern” I disagree, but do appreciate you clarifying your position for me.

    On the second point, I assumed you would recognize my reference to the Church’s policy from it’s handbook of instructions (21.1.7). I did not say we were told not to study other translations. I accurately portrayed our policy of not approving non-KJV bibles for use at Church:

    “English-speaking members should use the Latter-day Saint edition of the King James Version of the Bible.”

    and

    “Although other versions of the Bible may be easier to read, in doctrinal matters, latter-day revelation supports the King James Version in preference to other English translations.”

    and

    “approved editions of the Bible are available from Church Distribution Services” (Hint – they don’t stock the NRSV)

    I think we need to re-examine these positions. It seems that decades of policies like these have gotten the Church to the point where many members are convinced that a mastery of Elder McConkie’s chapter headings is equivalent to understanding biblical scripture.

  73. MC on August 17, 2011 at 2:30 am

    Dave,
    I think our discussion of what constitutes “nuance” has itself delved too far into nuance. When I said it wasn’t a matter of “great concern” I was contrasting my view with that of my interlocutors, who seem to think that the primary problem with our Biblical study is that the KJV is obscuring all these wonderful bits of wisdom. Whereas I think the principal problem, nearly the entire problem, is that we don’t bother cracking open the book in the first place. It’s hard to make good use of a second tranlation if you’re not even making an effort to comprehend the one you have in front of you.

    I don’t mean to make the “Any discussion of a lesser problem distracts from the bigger problem” argument, which is usually used when the speaker has no good response on the lesser problem. It just seems to me that the KJV has been “falsely accused” of murdering our Biblical literacy, and I, like OJ, want to find the real killers.

    As for the second point, as I said to Ben, if we’re going to have a unfied curriculum in the Church, there’s bound to be an “official” translation. And if Church leaders are going to choose an official translation, I sure would prefer that they pray and seek revelation about it. You disagree with the decision that’s been made, and that’s fine; that’s what the Bloggernacle is for, I guess. But considering that no one makes you read the KJV, no one is keeping you from using another version, and you are perfectly capable in this day and age of obtaining your own preferred translation, I’m having a hard time seeing a serious problem with the fact that the Church endorses and sells only one kind of Bible.

  74. Dave R on August 17, 2011 at 6:31 am

    Okay, you’ve had 14 lengthly replies to this post. I think you probably passed Julie’s original post by reply 4. I’ve had much more than my share, too. Let’s agree on this point — anyone who cared to note either one of our opinions, did so long ago.

  75. MC on August 17, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    Dave,
    Agreed. I usually only bother making a comment when my opinion is in the minority, so as here I find myself writing responses to three or four other people.

  76. geoffsn on October 17, 2011 at 2:49 am

    I realize that many/most of you have likely read this before, but it does a great job showing the church’s relationship with the KJV over time. http://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V22N02_21.pdf