The Word, translated

Published 11:09 pm Friday, September 23, 2011

Pastor Stewart McCarter of Southside Baptist Church shows off the marked-up copy of the King James Version Bible he used in seminary. However, he now uses mostly other versions, he said, particularly the Holman Christian Standard Bible.

King James Bible celebrates 400 years

In 1601, King James VI of Scotland attended a church assembly where a new translation of the Bible was first discussed. Ten years later, that new version would bear his name.

Four hundred years after it was completed, the King James Version of the Holy Bible continues to be the preferred translation for many Christians, despite the prevalence of newer versions using modern language.

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Modern Christian history is filled with the debate between those who believe the King James Version of the Bible should be the final authority for Christians and those who think believers should take advantage of translations that use the language common today.

Still others wish Christians would forget altogether about debating which version of the Bible is best.

“We focus on the wrong things,” said Chris Surber, pastor at Cypress Chapel Christian Church. “We’re busy fighting over which Bible translation to use, and meanwhile there’s somebody down the street that doesn’t even know Christ.”

After that 1601 meeting 410 years ago, the topic was next discussed in 1604 at the Hampton Court Conference, according to the King James Bible Trust. The king, now King James I of England, decided to commission a new translation of the Bible.

Six companies of translators were established, and each was assigned different books of the Bible to translate. The sections were finished in 1608 and finally printed together in 1611.

Only a few years later, the Pilgrims set sail for America, taking the King James Version with them. This was the first step in spreading the new Bible around the world, a process that continued with the expansion of British influence in India, Africa and Australia.

Today, the King James is one of hundreds of English-language versions of the Bible. How it is regarded largely depends on whom one asks.

“It was a great translation for its day,” said Stewart McCarter, lead pastor at Southside Baptist Church. “It was so good some people have the impression that’s the only correct translation, and that’s far from the truth.”

McCarter said he grew up and went through seminary using the King James Version, but now mostly uses the Holman Christian Standard Bible (sometimes jokingly called the Hard Core Southern Baptist version).

“The King James is a good Bible from 1611, but nobody talks like that now,” McCarter said.

Pastor Carl LeMon of Ebenezer United Methodist Church said he enjoys using the King James for Psalms and Proverbs, but not much else.

“It’s beautiful and poetic and memorable, but I don’t use King James for anything else, because it’s too obtuse and archaic and clumsy in the narrative,” he said. He prefers to use the New International Version.

“I’ve used the NIV since seminary,” he said. “Frankly, I haven’t had an excuse or reason to change.”

Cypress Chapel’s Surber said he respects the King James Version but doesn’t see it as the only way. He doesn’t use it in the pulpit.

“It’s the highest state of lunacy to suggest God only speaks in one translation in English,” he said.

Surber noted the King James uses many word constructions that are outdated and other words that are still used but now have an entirely different meaning.

“For your average person in the pew, they need something that’s more modern,” he said.

But the King James has many devotees in Suffolk. Sue Woodward, widely known for her extensive volunteer work with the Suffolk Nansemond Historical Society, is one of them.

“It’s the only version, as far as I’m concerned,” she said.

Woodward especially appreciates the beautiful language in the King James Version.

“Al those other translations are fine for study, I guess,” she said. “I want it to be beautiful and to soar. It’s a real disappointment when you don’t hear the beautiful words.”

Woodward said she considers other versions “part of the dumbing down of America” and likened the difference between them and the King James to the difference between a T-shirt and a Sunday suit.

“We were told to put on our very best clothes to go to church,” she said. “The King James is the best in words.”

Linda Riddick is another Suffolk resident who prefers the King James.

“I just think it’s more lyrical and poetic,” she said. ‘It’s a little more majestic and fitting God than just the average, everyday language.”

The King James Version revolutionized how people read the Bible and how the English language developed, the King James Bible Trust contends.

“This translation transformed how English people spoke to each other, how we wrote our books and how we see our God,” the organization’s website states. “The translation of the Bible has had enormous consequences not just for England, but America.”