In the church, it seems to be a written rule (or perhaps it’s just one of those pesky unwritten orders of things) to use the King James Version or if we are part of those communities, the Joseph Smith Translation (or Inspired Version) of the Bible. Or maybe it’s not a rule at all, but since the KJV is the one with all the neat footnotes, Bible Dictionary and topical guide references, then if you want to make researching easier when you have to write a talk, that’s the one you use.
And translation accuracy is very important to us. After all, we have an article of faith devoted to it.
We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.
But even with this 8th article of faith, it doesn’t necessarily preclude the use of other translations. And it certainly doesn’t preclude any other official translations from the church.
I guess it would make sense if we pointed out that the reason we use the King James Version (or, again, a version based heavily off of it) is simply because of tradition and heritage. After all, Joseph Smith was inevitably most familiar with it. Most of the popular translations nowadays (NIV, NRSV, etc.,) weren’t even dreamed of back then.
And as the First Presidency Statement on the King James Version notes (sorry, you have to scroll down this page):
While other Bible versions may be easier to read than the King James Version, in doctrinal matters latter-day revelation supports the King James Version in preference to other English translations. All of the Presidents of the Church, beginning with the Prophet Joseph Smith, have supported the King James Version by encouraging its continued use in the Church.
Still, it seems like tradition and heritage are insufficient to keep us tied so closely to the KJV. After all, while the King James Version may have an almost lyrical quality that reminds us of Shakespeare, is it the most understandable? To the 21st century reader, no. English has changed so much since King James’s time that even though the KJV’s Jacobean English is called “modern” and is technically readable (the same as Shakespeare — none of these are “Middle” or “Old” English, which are unintelligible languages to us without having a class in them) it still takes time and energy to understand some idioms and to decipher words whose meanings have changed on us since then! Certainly, we learn that charity=love and suffer=permit or allow, but isn’t it strange that we have to learn the language to read our own scriptures in (and those aren’t the only archaisms within)?
Do we forget (or sometimes never learn) of the very humane connotation of the holy “breath,” because “spirit” and “ghost” (which are indeed faithful translations of the concept) don’t quite have those connotations in English? And what confusion must translation cause, since in some instances, words have changed to mean the opposite of what they once did?
I find it very curious what the First Presidency had said before the part I quoted:
Many versions of the Bible are available today. Unfortunately, no original manuscripts of any portion of the Bible are available for comparison to determine the most accurate version. However, the Lord has revealed clearly the doctrines of the gospel in these latter-days. The most reliable way to measure the accuracy of any biblical passage is not by comparing different texts, but by comparison with the Book of Mormon and modern-day revelations.
…Because personally, I would like to see different texts of the Book of Mormon as well, but I recognize we don’t have a whole lot of options here either.
It just seems strange to me…why couldn’t we take the autographs or manuscripts that we have (even if they are copies of copies) and then work on a translation from whole cloth with them? After all, the Evangelicals basically did that with the New International Version (although, that makes it problematic for any non-Evangelicals who don’t want spin). Couldn’t the church authorize a more understandable modern translation of the Bible in accordance to the 8th article of faith so that we could say this one is translated correctly? (or, if translations aren’t the problems but sources are, couldn’t we note that instead, as the First Presidency Statement notes?)
What’s good in a Bible translation? Have any of you ventured outside of the King James microcosm (so the New KJV doesn’t count!)? If you have, was it only for personal study, or did you read along with your family or use in classes? What did others think or say? What do you think when someone relates to you a verse from another translation?