|Updating the King James|
|Written by Michael R. Briggs|
|Thursday, 07 August 2014 04:41 PM America/New_York|
Launching a new Bible translation in the spirit of the venerable version
This fall brings the release of the Modern English Version (MEV) Bible—the first update of the original Bible texts in the King James tradition in over 32 years. Passio, an imprint of Charisma House, will release several offerings in the September launch of this significant work.
It’s amazing to realize it’s been so long since the last update of the King James Version (KJV), yet in those decades, the English language has changed continually, evidenced each year by the addition of numerous new words to English-language dictionaries. As a result of changes in the language, you’re invited to kick off the flatforms, adjust your jorts and review those buzzworthy words along with accompanying emoji on your phablet—and it won’t cost you one bitcoin to do so. Yes, it’s a new world.
So why does the market need another Scripture translation? Don’t we have enough to service the needs of every Christian alive today? With the abundance of riches for Bible availability in America, we have experienced firsthand the Word of God becoming somewhat of a commodity, if not also a fashion statement.
Truth be told, that’s not a healthy perspective to have—considering that the call to serve the church through Christian retail is founded on passion for and dedication to the Bible. In fact, nearly every product offered in Christian retail stores offers truth rooted in God’s Word. The Bible is important to us because it is more than just a book. The Word of God in all forms represents the one item we are most honored and humbled to offer to those who come looking for one. No other book is more important or as life changing.
Yet active attempts to marginalize Christianity in these United States—and by default, the Bible itself—are reaching fever pitch. Cultural battles rage in many arenas, and attacks against God and His Word seem to be permeating several areas of society, our schools, courtrooms and even our laws. We seem to be fading into the woodwork of our local communities. So when consumers do engage the Christian retail store for a Bible, it is most important for Christian retailers to be able to offer expertise on the most significant of all books—one that brings light and love to their lives unlike any other. After all, having a Bible is one thing, but being able to understand it is another.
Indeed, Americans today, and especially millennials (born 1980-2000), are looking for God’s Word to be more than just a bunch of words compiled in a book. They want to actually experience the Scriptures. We tell them the Bible has the answer to all of life’s problems and gives them directions to follow God’s perfect plan for their lives. They long to find personal application, experience understanding and seek to hear the still small voice of God through the pages of the Bible. The desire for a translation that carries the reverence and beauty of the original, yet is easy to read and apply, is ever apparent.
As an industry, it’s easy to see that Christian retail plays an important role. It is truly a privilege to respond to consumers searching for help and hope by meeting their needs by providing an expansive selection of Bibles from which to choose.
BATTLING SPIRITUAL DECLINE
Just prior to June’s International Christian Retail Show in Atlanta, a handful of leading retailers were gathered to learn about the changes in society as it relates to Bible acceptance and understanding, as well as the need for a new translation. This article will share much of that detail, so you will gain the same insights as those who were in attendance.
As a basis for understanding the state of this foundational product to our industry, illuminating information was shared from an annual study commissioned by the American Bible Society (ABS) and designed by the Barna Group: The State of the Bible 2014 (full report available at americanbible.org under Bible Resources). The study clearly gives cause for pausing to consider how societal and generational changes in trends are impacting the Bible’s place in culture.
From the outset, the study provides distinct insight into the challenges in America today. Amid spiritual decline in a nation that is abandoning biblical absolutes, ambivalence toward Bible reading is alarmingly clear, and the need to re-engage Christians has become imperative.
“The typical American actually has 4.7 Bibles, yet only 37% of Americans use the Bible in a typical month,” said Barna Group President David Kinnaman. “So we have a huge gap between awareness, penetration and usage of Scripture.”
What is disturbing is that many Americans don’t read their Bible more than a couple times a year. Barna reports that while 80% of those interviewed will say they believe the Bible to be holy or sacred literature, less than half actually admit to reading it more than a couple times a year.
“Can you imagine a ‘Bible-less Christianity’?” asked American Bible Society President Roy Peterson.
When you come to grips with the reality that more and more Christians are spending less and less time engaging the Scriptures with consistency, these observations from ABS and Barna become even more disquieting. The State of the Bible 2014 study reveals that three out of five adults wish they read the Bible more. Worse, only one in five (19%) admit to being regular readers (four or more times per week). While they state their belief that doing so will bring them closer to God and allow His Word to influence their worldview, paradigms and daily life, Bible engagement among Americans still suffers.
The study also indicates that the majority choose not to read the Bible not because they don’t have time, don’t comprehend its teachings, fail to understand biblical history and have difficulty understanding the language as well as locating specific passages or stories. Rather, many have become skeptical regarding whether the Bible’s teachings really can bring direction and peace to their lives.
“In our work with American Bible Society, we’re seeing that those who are skeptical of Scripture are now equal to those who are engaged with Scripture,” Kinnaman said. “And what this means is that there are just as many Americans now who say that the Bible is just another book written by men, there’s no God behind the Bible. There’s a sense of skepticism, of alienation, of antagonism in some cases with Scripture. And over the last four or five years, as we’ve been doing this tracking on the state of the Bible, we actually see that this percentage of skeptical Americans has increased every year. It’s almost doubled in the last five years. And so we can actually see that Americans today, a good chunk of them, are actually becoming more skeptical toward Scripture.”
Clearly people need resources to help them overcome such uncertainty coupled with translations they can read and understand by themselves. There is a chasm between knowing what tools exist and how to use them. Christian retailers can fill that gap in the market as well as the gap left by the local church. Christian retailers should work to fill that gap, partnering with Bible publishers whenever possible to raise awareness and distinguish Christian retail as a resource of expertise.
This becomes especially obvious when you consider that for most Christian retailers, the call to ministry is based on their love for the Bible. It is the foundation to every product found sitting on the shelves or hanging on the walls in their stores. While Bibles can be found elsewhere in retail, including online, seldom will a consumer be able to find a more knowledgeable resource than their local Christian retailer when it comes to explaining the differences across such a broad product selection. Finding the right “fit” is important, lest the consumer never crack open the cover of their copy of the Scriptures.
However, when Bibles are being positioned in stores as a commodity, regulated to a section at the back of the store or left for self-service shopping alone, the risk of minimizing the importance of the Bible, and with it, the need for consistent Bible reading, increases. In other words, if the Bible doesn’t appear to be the most important book to the Christian retailer, will it translate to being as important to the consumer?
ENGAGING AMERICA TODAY
America was founded upon the teachings of God’s Word, yet today, many of our church leaders will tell us we’re chasing Europe and quickly becoming “post Christian.” Across the nation, many see the Bible as simply historical with spiritual teachings far removed from daily life. But, if studies show fewer people are engaging with God’s Word, what difference can yet another Bible translation make? Why bother to invest in developing another translation and greater product extension in an already saturated market?
When you consider that the State of the Bible 2014 study revealed that the majority of households have a Bible, it’s easy to conclude that regardless of apartment, home, mansion or dorm room, there is a Bible likely sitting somewhere on a shelf. The challenge is that the Bible is actually sitting there and not actively read because the consumer isn’t compelled to take the initiative to engage with God’s Word.
“In a society where relationships exist primarily on Facebook and advice is dispensed by those whose own lives seldom reflect anything approximating joy or purpose, the Bible is all too often viewed as irrelevant and its wisdom outmoded,” he said. “For too many, the riches of a life reflecting the Bible’s wisdom is locked in a book to which they do not have a key.”
Ceballo went on to cite these sobering statistics:
In a world rife with conflict and with the very fabric of American society stretched nearly to the point of tearing, the fact that over a quarter of adults state they have never read the Bible ought to be upsetting to the church and to those of us who supply local congregations with resources to grow in their faith.
Ceballo crystalizes this point.
“When we take a moment to consider the majority of Americans are just within a few steps of the words written by their Creator for the express purpose of inspiration, comfort and instruction, proximity is obviously not the issue,” he said. “There are other reasons why people are not engaging in daily Bible reading.”
He further cites the key frustrations as to why the Bible is not part of their daily life, including the following obstacles to engagement with the Scriptures:
Additionally, the State of the Bible 2014 study revealed that the weight of skepticism in the U.S. about the Bible has nearly doubled in just a few years. Imagine that! With the increased exposure to the gospel message via television, cable, satellite broadcasts and the success of recent biblically based movies impacting everyday culture—incredulity is still growing.
The study indicated in 2011, 10% said they were skeptical of the Bible. Yet today, in 2014, that number has almost doubled with 19% reporting they were skeptical.
The current crisis is clearly spelled out in the pages of the State of the Bible 2014 report. As an industry, the challenge is to increase awareness not only of Bibles, but also of the relevance of Bible reading for Christians looking for finding God’s plan for their lives.
To effectively build this awareness, retailers need to understand the critical questions emerging regarding the Bible’s relevancy in our nation’s fabric. This is especially true among two of the largest demographics in terms of age and heritage, millennials and Hispanics. Both are rapidly and indelibly changing the face of Christianity in America. Amid changes in society and the challenges they produce, Bible publishers—as well as churches and others—must work diligently to leverage technology and inquisitiveness to promote the Bible’s relevancy in this century.
“One of the generations that we study a lot are millennials,” Barna Group’s Kinnaman said. “These are individuals who are in their teenage years or young adult years. Millennials are actually more likely than older generations to tell us they’re interested in what the Bible has to say on things like parenting, finances, sex and romance, all sorts of like, cultural issues, how to live well in today’s society. So while millennials are actually more skeptical of Scripture, they’re actually more hungry for scriptural insights and ways to live well in today’s sort of complex culture.”
Today, the Bible is available in nearly 2,300 languages. Hundreds of millions of downloads on mobile devices provide interactive ways to discover, study and share God’s Word across the social-media spectrum. In light of such wide availability, it is surprising that many Christians struggle with engaging the Bible and applying its relevancy to their lives.
American attitudes are being shaped by these now-young, but future leaders.
Millennials make up the largest generation in the U.S. at nearly 95 million strong, 22% greater than the baby boomers. Much like their “me generation” parents, Generation Y is going through its own journey spiritually and is less likely to say that the Bible is inspired by God. They don’t read the Bible like their parents and grandparents, and are more doubtful as a result. They need a translation that is rooted in the church but is easier for them to read and comprehend so they can apply it to their own lives and situations.
Awareness, interest and confidence in God’s Word appear to be dropping rapidly among those who are the future shapers of our country. Our society is defined increasingly by an absence of biblical principles and presence. Whether the growth of progressive agendas, dismissing biblical absolutes from our courts and schools, or believers’ apathy about the Bible, engagement in Scripture reading is sorely needed and provides Christian retailers with a unique opportunity to be used mightily on this front. The need has perhaps never been greater. The time is now.
MAKING SCRIPTURE CLEAR
Millennial Chelsen Vicari, evangelical program director for the Institute on Religion & Democracy, has a significant mission in mind for the church and believes the MEV can help.
“The MEV Bible is so relevant right now because America’s Christian churches are facing a crisis, whether we realize it or not,” said Vicari, the author of Distortion: How the New Christian Left is Twisting the Gospel & Damaging the Faith (FrontLine). “We’ve so long been focused on what’s going on outside of our walls that we haven’t been paying attention to what’s going on within. And within our own sanctuaries, there is a group and movement that’s repackaging the gospel, that’s distorting Christian teaching. We’ve got to start addressing this problem by equipping millennials, and to do that, we can help them with the MEV version of the Bible.
“Because the MEV version of the Bible is so easy to read, user-friendly, it can really help millennials understand what their faith is all about. And because of that, it will prepare us and equip us to go out, evangelize and incite revival in a new generation.”
As a leading voice among her peers, Vicari’s comments ought to present a clarion call for Christian retailers to realize the opportunity to engage the future of their business continually rests in reaching this growing and spiritually hungry demographic. The Bible’s perceived lack of relevancy is due to a lack of experience with its application. For too many, the untested is the untrue.
There are a lot of modern translations, but the MEV is the first updated version of the King James Version in decades. It fills a void and has a place within the church, especially for those hungering for updated language that still provides the reverence and distinctiveness of the KJV.
There remains a strong loyalty to the old King James Version. When asking Bible leaders which translation is their preference, Christian retailers may find it surprising to learn that the results may differ from their in-store experience. Just over one-third (34%) claim the KJV is their favorite, 13% cite the NIV, 7% NKJV, 6% ESV, 4% NLT, 3% NRSV and about 2% for all others. What the MEV brings to readers is a loyalty to the beauty and poetry of the KJV along with the reverence, yet in a language that modern audiences can readily understand.
“On a personal level, I think it’s an amazing thing for somebody to be asked to take part in the translation of the Bible from the original languages, to be able to render the Bible in a new and a fresh way, not only for that generation, but for generations to come,” said Rudolf D. Gonzalez, Ph.D., professor of New Testament and dean of The William R. Marshall Center for Theological Studies, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Gonzales is an ordained minister (Southern Baptist Convention) and one of the scholars on the MEV translation team.
“What the Modern English Version committee sought to do was to take the King James and be faithful to the language of the King James, to recognize that it has a venerable place in the history of American Christianity, of English-speaking Christianity,” Gonzalez added. “And we wanted to maintain that, and yet we wanted to somehow bring the language forward to make it meaningful and relevant to our people today.”
Gonzalez finds what he calls a “biblical pattern” in that process.
“The New Testament, for example, was written by inspired men,” he said. “And it’s interesting, a lot of people don’t often realize this, but whenever the apostolic writers were quoting the Old Testament, often in the New Testament they’re not quoting the ancient Hebrew script, but they’re quoting the Septuagint—the Greek rendering of the Hebrew text. It’s as if they understood that the Old Testament was authoritative and had its place, but they needed to quote it in a language that was meaningful for the day.
“Well, that’s what we’ve tried to do with the Modern English Version. We realized that it has a place in history and it continues to have a very important place in the community of faith today, and yet there are so many people that probably would never turn to it because of the language barriers. And so what we wanted to do was to revisit the original text to see if somehow we could modernize the language, bring it up to date, make it more contemporary for the reader today.”
The King James Version is anchored in Western culture, but today, not as many people realize it. There are a number of idioms in the English language that originated with the King James Version, for instance, the phrase “apple of my eye.” As that understanding is lost, people aren’t familiar with their origin from the Bible. So the King James Version needed to be updated to keep it accessible to today’s culture.
In 1604, in response to the need for an accessible version of the Bible, King James I commissioned 47 clergy and scholars to publish what became known as the King James Version. While last updated in 1982, the English language has gone through so many changes that the necessity to update the KJV was overwhelmingly apparent, resulting in the multi-year process of bringing the Modern English Version into being. Once again, 47 of the world’s most qualified Bible linguists responded to the call for a clear, reverent and accurate translation for their time.
In recognition of the breadth and depth of the global English-speaking population, these translators were selected to represent a cross-section of the English-speaking church. As graduates and professors of some of the world’s most prestigious colleges, seminaries and universities, the translation committee is uniquely qualified to produce a translation able to not only satisfy those who have long treasured the King James Version, but to engage the next generation. From inception, the new translation was to be applicable and transformational for the entire English-speaking world. Like those who have gone before them, the linguists devoted themselves to ensuring the Modern English Version is an accurate and responsible update of the King James Version.
Bound by Christian unity and cooperation, the interdenominational committee adopted the philosophy of formal equivalence. This more literal approach employs a word-for-word rather than a thought-for-thought translation philosophy. Also at times, the MEV updates some of the archaic idioms that are found in the King James Version for modern readers so that they’ll have an easier time understanding what these idioms mean. For example, in Mark 2:18-19, the people ask Jesus why His disciples do not fast like the Pharisees do. The original Greek used in Jesus’ response was, literally, “Can the sons of the wedding hall fast when the bridegroom is with them?” The KJV translates this idiom into English as, “the children of the bridechamber.” Now, the idiom “children of the bridechamber” makes little sense to us today, but the MEV translates it as “wedding guests,” which is much easier to understand for today’s reader.
N. Blake Hearson, M.A., M.Div., M.Phil., Ph.D., an ordained minister, associate professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and editor-in-chief, Old Testament, explains it this way: “This is an update of the King James Version. The basis of our text was the Textus Receptus as well as the Ben-Haim version of the Hebrew text. And we brought all these things together in a way that was very true to the beauty of the King James Version, and yet brings that forward with clarity and accuracy that will enable a whole new generation to appreciate the beauty of the King James in a language that they can understand. And that’s what makes the MEV such a great translation for today.”
Some may question how different the MEV is from the NKJV released in 1982. The MEV translation committee observed that the MEV is a direct descendant of the KJV (1611, 1769) and seeks to carry forward the KJV tradition, but to do so in a much more modernized language while remaining faithful to the original texts.
Returning to the original texts and translating them anew from the Textus Receptus as well as the Ben Hayyim version of the Hebrew text provides authenticity that will be readily understood and accepted among scholars and most pastors. Christian consumers will find the difference mainly in the updates to the English language itself. While some well-known verses such as John 3:16 seldom reflect change in various modern translations, it’s the updated language throughout the MEV that will bring clarity and greater understanding to the Scriptures.
EMBRACING THE NEW
Just as the King James Version has been the standard since the 17th century, the Modern English Version meets the needs for today’s generation and for those to come. It presents a tremendous opportunity for the Christian retailer. Today a consumer can go into any bookstore and find any number of translations that appeal to people of different preferences. Who will the MEV appeal to? It is a translation that is pre-eminently practical and useful not just for the theologian, but also for the pastor, lay leader and the Christian seeking to draw closer to God in order to know Him better and love Him more.
The MEV is user-friendly from the pulpit, the classroom, the kitchen table or anywhere one enjoys personal devotion time. The scholarship is first-rate, and it is rendered in a language that makes it easily applied in the hearts of anyone seeking to hear God’s voice.
The differences between the MEV and the KJV are distinctive. As with many modern English translations those differences have a tendency to appear less so when one skips across a handful of favorite verses in a cursory comparison. It is important to recognize that the changes to the English language through the years are more significant than can be found by skimming highlights in the new translation. Publisher support material will assist retailers with drawing distinctions between the MEV and other translations—especially those that also employed a formal-equivalence approach.
Dr. Michael Brown, president and professor of practical theology at Fellowship for International Revival and Evangelism School of Ministry, raised a good question when he first read the MEV.
“When I first saw it, and it was being compared to the King James, I said, ‘This is really similar. What’s the point?’ Then, when I understood the point was to have something with the feel of the King James in modern language, I thought, ‘This is really well done!’ So, then I spot-checked, because biblical scholarship, that’s my field. My degrees are in Semitic languages and things, and I’ve worked on a few translations over the years as a reader or giving input or things like that. So as I went through it, I said, ‘OK, let’s see how they render this. Let’s see how they treat it.’ They were not just taking the King James and trying to put it in modern language. They were going directly from the Hebrew, the Aramaic, the Greek in light of the best manuscript evidence that we have in harmony with the King James translation’s philosophy. I thought, ‘They’ve really done a good job on this!’ And even if I wanted to memorize verses now, and if I wanted to go back or quote passages, or read them publicly, this really works.”
It would be easy for retailers to simply view the MEV as just another translation and wait to see if anyone walks in asking for it. Unfortunately, so much of retail today has become “point and shoot” style. “Sure we have that—three aisles down on your left, should be on the second shelf.” This leaves the whole service-and-sales proposition in the hands of the consumer alone. While some may prefer the solitude to explore on their own, Bibles are far too important and too specialized to be left for someone to guess about. Besides, it’s the Christian retailer’s opportunity for ministry—the basis on which such a store exists.
Consistent reading of the Bible leads to the ultimate goal of Scripture engagement, which takes readership to another level as the Holy Spirit illuminates through God’s Word where their lives require alignment with His will. As they grow through God’s Word, their hunger to learn more brings them back to Christian retail to discover more of what their local store offers. It starts with the right Bible in their hands.
“We are living in, arguably, the most difficult times spiritually our nation has ever experienced. Great cultural decadence. Spiritual apathy. Moral relativism. Ecclesiastical lukewarmness,” said Samuel Rodriquez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. “What we need is to re-engage God’s Word. We need the Word of God to once again emerge as the quintessential standard of morality, righteousness and justice. The Modern English Version serves that very purpose.”
Therein lies a great opportunity for Christian retailers to engage the church in their local communities. Traffic is down, and competition is up. The local church faces the same challenge! While Christian retailers are fighting to find ways to attract consumers (especially millennials) to their stores to grow their future, the local church is doing the same to grow the kingdom. Why not work together to celebrate the release of this all-important Bible translation?
Adopting an event mentality for the MEV allows Christian retail stores to embrace churches in their neighborhood that perhaps they have not spoken directly with in some time. As the old adage goes: If you get the church, you often get the people in the church. Given that the ABS study shows the largest percentage for preferred translation is the King James Version (34%), and this is the first update in over three decades—inviting pastors and key leaders in the Christian retailer’s community to discover this significant update gives the store the opportunity to re-engage the church on a subject for which both share a great love.
Whether that means door-to-door visits to the church, sending a personal letter, hosting a Bible reading group, taking a pastor to lunch or hosting a breakfast for several church leaders at one time, returning to this basic means of marketing can only help to grow awareness of the store. It’s about relationships and re-establishes the local Christian retail store front-of-mind as a leading authority on Bibles and encourages partnership with the church to help congregants grow in their spiritual walk.
Assertive retailers will use any viable opportunity to engage their communities with a call to action—if it meets needs and helps customers grow spiritually. Today, customers have come to expect functional features and benefits, product quality and a positive brand image. What they want in addition are products that touch their hearts, answer their questions and stimulate their minds.
The release of any new Bible translation is worth celebrating because it helps readers draw closer to their Creator. Shelving the product as “just another product” becomes a disservice to the customer. In contrast, featuring in a key focus area brings increased awareness and helps build the trust experience customers receive when they visit their local Christian retailer and see the value placed on the Bible.
Enthusiasm for the MEV is contagious, so such efforts won’t be in a vacuum. Major ministries and denominational heads already are embracing the MEV. Demand for an update to the KJV has been growing for years and is being welcomed by those working to engage society in reading the Bible.
Rob Hoskins, president of One Hope (Ministries), sees this translation as important for the younger generation.
“Our mission is to affect destiny by providing God’s Word to every child in the world,” Hoskins said. “This year alone, we’ll reach nearly 100 million children around the world with God’s Word through print, visual, audio and digital platforms. But it’s not just the distribution of God’s Word that we’re concerned about: it’s about scripture engagement because it’s not the distribution of God’s Word, but the entrance of God’s Word, that’s so important to us. And that’s why we invest so much time and energy in making sure that the right translation is found for every particular audience, and that’s why we’re thrilled with the MEV. Not only is it incredibly simple for children and young people to understand, but it’s also very credible with the churches that we’re working with here in the U.S. and around the world.”
King Solomon said of making books, there is no end, and sometimes it feels that way with Bible translations and formats. The Christian products industry certainly offers many opportunities for Christian consumers to engage God one-on-one in the reading of His Word. It is important to have a translation that consumers can not only trust, but also find value in for the direction of their own lives and for those they love, those they teach and those they lead. The beauty of the Modern English Version is that it not only preserves the cadence of the King James, but it also remains true to the message of holy Scripture and is worthy to pass on to future generations.
MEV Publishing Director Jason McMullen perhaps sums it up best: “Psalm 118 reads in the Modern English Version, ‘This is what the Lord has done; it is marvelous in our eyes.’ Everything God does is marvelous. Everything He does is great. When I think about the conversations and the meetings and all that went into bringing us to this point, it’s simply marvelous. We didn’t do this. God did this. God brought these 47 scholars together at this point in time to provide this updated translation for His church, and that’s something special.
“So, I’m calling upon Christian retailers,” McMullen said. “I’m calling upon leaders, pastors, discipleship directors, Christian education directors, moms, dads and students to help us spread the word. Help us spread the word about this translation, the Modern English Version. This is something to be celebrated because God has provided this for His church.”