Venerable KJVBy Melodie Davis
I recently started trying to read the King James Version of the Bible through again. Why would anyone do that when so many more readable versions are available?
First, this year is the 400th anniversary of the KJV. England’s King James ordered the translation because other versions at the time were so inadequate.
My other reason is more personal. At the estate sale of my grandmother some years ago, my sister bought for me my grandfather’s well-worn and yellowed King James Bible. Since this was a grandfather I never knew, I thought reading it would be a way of making a connection to him, even now.
Ivan Stauffer, my grandfather on my mother’s side, was killed in a car accident when I was just 1 year old. I keep a copy of the newspaper article about his accident in that Bible. He crashed into a tree on his way home from helping at my mom and dad’s farm in Indiana one August day in 1953. Mom said he had a fainting spell prior to that, and the family always felt he simply blacked out.
Ivan Stauffer’s King James Bible is now mine. It has only a few things written in it. I wish there were more.
But back to the KJV itself: Why wade through the king’s English, with its archaic spellings, thee’s, thou’s and doth’s?
Because it is the Bible I grew up with. It is the Bible I memorized Sunday school verses from, read every day at breakfast, heard at church twice on Sunday and at prayer meeting every Wednesday night. It was our bread and butter: the staple introduction to bedrock faith.
The KJV is familiar to me in a way that it will never be familiar to my children. In fact, it is almost Greek or Hebrew to my kids. My daughter accidentally read a KJV from the pulpit some time ago and found herself stumbling mightily.
The King James Bible is also worth reading again because it has a beauty and grandeur — a “haunting power,” writes Timothy Larsen in Christian Century (Dec. 29).
For instance, the rhythm of the creation story in Genesis 1: “And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.” The sneering simplicity of the serpent’s response to Eve when he tempted her to eat the fruit: “Ye shall not surely die.” The modest use of the word “knew” to indicate sexual relations between a husband and wife.
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