Review: ‘Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible’

authorized 2by John Ellis

Mark Ward is nothing if not gracious, a helpful trait considering he dared write a book about the King James Bible. Thankfully, for the readers of Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible, Ward has other positive traits beyond just his graciousness. He’s a gifted writer and a thoughtful scholar, skills that come to considerable bear on his book. More importantly, Mark Ward has the desire to see a love for God’s Word grow in his brothers and sisters in Christ. That desire is evident as he graciously plunges into the debate and argues that the KJV is too difficult for most modern readers. Sadly, I’m afraid that his graciousness is going to be obscured in the minds of those most in need of this book by his promotion of translations missing the familiar “KJV” on their spine.

The KJV debate is not new to me. Growing up in Peter Ruckman’s hometown of Pensacola, FL, I was smack dab in the middle of KJV-only country. My pastor father only ever uses and preaches from the KJV. The only Bibles in our house contained the familiar “thee’s” and “thou’s.” For my high school graduation, my parents gifted me a copy of Scofield’s KJV Refence Bible, a Bible I still have and cherish. It wasn’t until my freshman year at Bob Jones University that I was even aware that Christians exist who use translations other than the KJV.

Sadly, I quickly learned after that discovery that the KJV-only crowd is, by and large, characterized by divisiveness. I’ve seen first-hand the vitriol poured out on those who dare even suggest that it’s okay to use another translation other than the KJV. Fellow counselors at a KJV-only camp I worked at went ballistic upon discovering me reading The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism by D.A. Carson (a book I bought at BJU’s Campus Store, by the way). I remember the rancorous video tapes sent out by Pensacola Christian College sounding condemnatory notes over Bob Jones University’s use of corrupted versions of the Bible. Even now, it’s not unusual for a commenter on one of my PJ Media articles to take me to task for using a perverted translation (usually the ESV) and not the KJV.

So, it was with great interest that I began reading Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible.

Within the canon of KJV literature (on both sides of the debate), Mark Ward’s book takes a somewhat different approach than most. Aimed at those who are put-off by the minutia of textual criticism and head-ache inducing arguments about textual variations between text families, Authorized seeks to compel the reader to ask why we read the Bible and does the KJV aid or hinder that objective.

Obviously, Christians down through the ages have treasured the Bible because God chose to reveal Himself and His plan of salvation in the pages of its Story. We read the Bible because God speaks to us through His Word. This all important reason is why Ward writes, “So if the KJV is indeed too difficult to understand for modern readers, we’ve got a significant problem – the most significant translation problem a translation can have: What’s the point in using a translation in old English that people can’t understand anymore? [emphasis kept]”[1]

That, of course, raises the question: Is the KJV too difficult for modern readers to understand? As Ward points out, “Objections to the readability of the KJV are not beside the point. They are the point. We need to examine KJV English to discover whether its difficulties outweigh all the values of retaining it.”[2]

Throughout the book, but especially in chapters 3, “Dead Words and ‘False Friends,’” and 5, “The Value of the Venacular,” Ward makes a case that will stand up against the most diligent scrutiny that the KJV is problematic for modern readers, that “its difficulties outweigh all the values of retaining it.”

Throughout chapter 3, Authorized provides a series of “false friends” found in the KJV. According to Ward, a “false friend” is an English word that is still in use today but now has a different meaning than it had in the early 17th century when the KJV translators chose to include it. In other words, readers of the KJV frequently assume that they understand the meaning of the text, but, in reality, have been led astray by a “false friend.” I’ll be honest, as someone who loves Shakespeare, reads Shakespeare, and has performed Shakespeare, I was surprised to find that I was fooled by several of the “false friends” listed in chapter 3.

Carving even further into the meat of his argument in chapter 5, Ward asserts that the KJV fails to pass the vernacular test. However, before he explains why the KJV fails to pass the vernacular test, he uses the Bible to helpfully demonstrate why our translations should pass the vernacular test. Mark Ward isn’t interested in convincing anyone because it’s his opinion; he grounds his arguments in the Word of God.

One of the helpful things the book points out is that the translators of the KJV believed that it’s important to produce translations in the vernacular. The irony, of course, is that those who continue to cling to the KJV are flying in the face of the wishes of the men who translated their preferred version. Ward claims, “The KJV translators were not KJV-Only. They would most definitely support the work of later translators building on their foundation and being helped by their labors.”

Authorized is a book that I believe will be of interest and value to all those who value God’s Word, and so I won’t “give away the store” by revealing all of Ward’s arguments and support for his arguments. You should really read the book.

I would be remiss, though, if I failed to point out that even though he mostly avoids the weeds of textual criticism, Ward unveils enough of the “academic” side of the debate as to helpfully stoke the reader’s curiosity. And he does so in winsome and frequently humorous ways. I guess the biggest surprise of Authorized is how many times I laughed while reading it. What wasn’t surprising is how much I learned about the KJV and the way language works while reading Authorized. Mark Ward is a consummate teacher.

Once again, his charitable and gracious spirit should be commended. His love for those who prefer the KJV is never in doubt. In fact, his love of the KJV is never in doubt. The very first chapter is a compilation of reasons why we should continue to value the KJV. Sadly, as I mentioned above, graciousness will probably not be enough to break through the calcified positions of most of those who hold to a KJV-only position.

However, even if this book fails to change the mind of any KJV-only proponents, Authorized holds value for at least two reasons: 1. It encourages all followers of Jesus to prize God’s Word even more. 2. It can serve as a means to helping clear up any confusion in those who have been exposed to KJV-onlyism and are tempted to feel guilty because they use a different translation.

If you’re curious to learn more about the KJV debate, Authorized is an accessible and informative place to begin. If you’re wanting to learn more about how the English language has evolved and what role that evolution has played in the translation of the Bible, Mark Ward’s latest book is an engaging overview of the subject. Most importantly, for those who desire for their love of God’s Word to grow and deepen, Authorized will help stoke those fires while encouraging you to read the Bible more, no matter what translation you use.

To order Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible click here.

Soli Deo Gloria

[1] Mark Ward, Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018), 18-19.

[2] Ward, Authorized, 21.


2 thoughts on “Review: ‘Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible’

  1. It always confounded me that people think the KJV is THE version of the Bible – as though King James was the original author. I’ve never understood it. My personal favorite translation is the NLT, but occasionally I will read several translations of verses at a time in order to get a more complete picture. Not that the meaning changes, but sometimes word choice can make you see something different than what you originally read. I used to read “The Message,” but sometimes that left the heart of the Word to be desired – almost TOO colloquial. I do like the poeticism of the KJV sometimes, but if I’m looking for the meaning, the NLT does it for me. People seem to forget that they are all TRANSLATIONS, not different information. And whichever translation brings you closer to the Word should be the choice you stick with.

    Liked by 1 person

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