Authorized – The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible – Review
Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible by Dr. Mark Ward is a book about whether or not today’s society should use the KJV as a primary translation. He uses lots of situational stories to demonstrate his points and provides lots of examples from Scripture.
In this 154 page book, Dr. Ward discusses the KJV with the utmost respect. He isn’t attacking anyone (including KJV-onliests). He isn’t criticizing the KJV translators. He’s respectful of them. Dr. Ward is 100% positive toward the quality of the KJV and the translators.
What the Book Covers
Mark Ward covers the impact the KJV has had on modern society, discussing what’s lost and what is gained if we move away from the KJV as a primary translation.
He shows that too many phrases in the KJV need to be explained to the reader or listener and that leaves our understanding open to the interpretation of the teachers.
He demonstrates that the greatest problems are sentences that we don’t realize are problems. We think we understand what is being said. It even makes sense in context. Unfortunately, this causes us to misunderstand the context completely. The problem isn’t looking up words we don’t understand. It’s not knowing what we don’t understand. We don’t always notice the difficulties. We can read right over them, assuming we understand. They don’t register.
“We need to examine KJV English to discover whether its difficulties outweigh all the values of retaining it.” – Mark Ward
Dr. Ward demonstrates several difficulties through stories and common Scriptures that are often memorized. He does point out that none of them affect doctrine. Just a few verses wouldn’t be much of an issue. The problem is the great number of them. They occur in every book of the Bible. He covers 6 of these issues in detail, discusses 2 stories, and lists 25 others. There are far more that this in the KJV, but these examples are enough to get the point across. He shows many others throughout the book. He isn’t attempting to provide an exhaustive list of difficulties. I’ve been collecting them myself over the past few years and I hadn’t noticed several that he mentions.
He shows how language changes over time and how that affects meaning of words and phrases. Often, understanding the meaning of the words doesn’t help in understanding the phrase. He provides many examples of this. Just looking up words in the dictionary doesn’t work. Not even in the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary. Only the Oxford English Dictionary works because of how it shows millions of uses all the way back to 800 AD for anything that even remotely resembles English.
Punctuation is another area where the KJV doesn’t match what we’re used to. He shows how the 1769 KJV punctuation makes it more difficult to understand some passages. This is fixed in the New Cambridge Paragraph Bible (which is one reason I recommend it over a standard vbv edition with out-of-date punctuation. It is unfortunate that others haven’t updated the punctuation as well as the 1769 punctuation doesn’t match the 1611 anyway).
Even though he’s showing that we don’t understand phrases, words, and punctuation, he also shows that it’s not the fault of the translator’s or the modern reader. This isn’t done to make use feel ignorant. No one is blaming us for not understanding the changes in English for the past 400 years and no one is blaming the translator’s for not being able to predict those changes.
“And that’s my big point in this book: modern readers quite literally can’t—not merely don’t—know what they’re missing when they read the KJV. You can teach people to look up unfamiliar words, but the issue here is not words you know you don’t know; it’s words (and phrases and syntax and punctuation) you don’t know you don’t know—features of English that have changed in subtle ways rather than dropping completely out of the language.” – Mark Ward
One of my favorite sections covers the reading level of the KJV. I’ve read many times that it’s either a 5th or 12th grade reading level (depending on the agenda of the writer). Dr. Ward demonstrates how computers actually perform a reading-level text and shows the problems with testing the KJV. I’ve always placed the KJV in the 12th grade reading level and said that machines don’t know that words have changed meaning and that 5th graders are not taught to look up the meanings of words they think they know. Dr. Ward takes this much further with a detailed analysis, comparing words, sentence structure, punctuation, and even typography.
I especially like his points on language in the vernacular. He demonstrates from Scripture that a translation should be in the vernacular and that the KJV was written in the vernacular of a different audience. God spoke in the vernacular. He also shows what the KJV translators themselves thought about translations and discusses what they expected to happen over time. The translator’s goal was to produce a translation in the vernacular (the current speech of that day), and our goal today should be to use a translation in the vernacular. He answers 10 objections to reading the Bible in the vernacular.
At the end of the book is a list of notes with links to articles and lots of books for further reading.
Dr. Ward’s points are not from someone one the outside looking in. It’s obvious from his writings that he’s read the KJV many times. His trouble with words and phrases are real problems- not something that someone is trying to make a problem where there isn’t one. In other words, his arguments are solid, valid, and applicable to all KJV readers today.
I’ve personally witnessed many of these cases where something thinks they understand a passage because they know what the words mean. I’ve heard many preachers preach about how “fast” the Word of God is while reading a verse that says the Word of God is “quick”. One preacher preached this from a Thompson Chain Reference Bible which has a glossary in the back with the word ‘quick’, but he didn’t know to look it up because he knows what the word ‘quick’ means.
There are several KJV’s that provide glossaries in the back (such as the Concord, Clarion, Windsor, and Thompson Chain Reference), and others that place them in the margin or at the end of verses (such as the Westminster, Thomas Nelson Reference editions, and the Sword Study Bible), but none of them, including those with dictionaries, explain the words that Dr. Ward demonstrates.
Mark Ward makes the most compelling case I’ve seen to use modern translations. It has nothing to do with manuscripts or translation philosophy. It has everything to do with language. He isn’t telling you what translation to choose. He leaves that up to you and your own research.
Also, he’s not telling us to throw the KJV away. He’s simply showing, with examples, why the KJV shouldn’t be our primary translation. He’s not telling us to replace the KJV, but instead to add to it. Read it in parallel with another translation. Read another translation for a while and see what you understand. Read with understanding God’s Word as your goal. He demonstrates the need for multiple translations. He isn’t claiming that one modern translation is better than the rest, but that all have some value.
Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible is the best book I’ve read about the need for a translation we can understand. all of his points are backed up with clear demonstrations. He isn’t attacking anyone on either side of the argument. He describes his points with illustrations that are clear. He includes the right kind and the right amount of humor. I highly recommend this book to every KJV reader.
For more information about Dr. Mark Ward, so my interview with him here: Interview with Mark Ward
I was provided a review copy of this book by the author. I was not required to give a positive review – only an honest review. My opinions are my own.