The phrase, “The King James is from Hell” is one that I said to another church member. It’s a statement I regret saying, but one I said. It was stated from emotion than my actual thoughts about the King James Version (KJV). Sadly, because of my ill-timed phrase, church members could embellish real events connected to Bible translations used under my pastorate. Despite both of our errors, the truth of what occurred was lost, but not forgotten by God.
The Origin of My Ill-Stated Phrase
For the record, I do not believe the KJV is from Hell. In fact, I know God has considerably used it over the last few centuries. It was not until the late 1900s that another modern and accessible English translation even existed. Therefore, despite its weaknesses today; the KJV allowed God’s people to understand the treasure of God’s word for hundreds of years. That’s a historical benefit of the translation that should never be disrespected, which I briefly did.
So, why did I say, “The KJV is from Hell?”
Frustration explains why I said, “The King James is from Hell.” The church I was pastoring then was a church that was steeped in tradition. Their religious heritage was so great that some things were not based on God’s word. They might not admit this point, but many rituals had no biblical connection, and some were even idolatry. When this occurs, the best approach for Christians to overcome cultural idolatry is to read the Bible regularly. Then the Holy Spirit will speak through scripture on what is truth and what is not. Sadly, few were reading scripture as evidenced by their lifestyle and by their admissions.
An Obstacle to Daily Bible Reading
Micah Fries who is the former Vice President for Research at LifeWay and now church pastor emphasizes an important statistic. Simply, “there is a direct connection between a Christian’s spiritual growth and their daily Bible reading.” So, what prevents one from reading the Bible more? Could it be the translation?
The bulk of my frustration stemmed from many church members who admitted that they did not read scripture more because they struggled to understand the KJV. The obvious answer then is to switch to a more recent English version, one that matched the current cadence of our English use. Unfortunately, this easy fix was opposed.
Often the standard response was, “Well, the KJV is what I grew up with.” Fair enough, so I offered some gracious rebuttals. Each of them was ignored because, like the many church traditions that were idolatry, the KJV was an idol to many in the church.
Now the idea of the KJV being an idol is an offensive thought. In fact, the person that I said, “The King James is from Hell” had this conversation with me. They too were offended by me questioning if the KJV had become an idol to them?!?! They, like many others, consider the KJV to be the only version of the Bible as the true “Word of God.” While this claim is not factual, it’s an obstacle for many Christians. Despite this hindrance, I’m not against the KJV, just people’s view of it, especially if it’s turned into an idol. Plus, if the translation is an obstacle then it’s time to consider other translations. My goal then was to simply see Christians read more scripture, no matter the version used. Sadly, for many, the KJV prevented their spiritual growth because they could not consider any other versions.
Many Members Did Choose Another Translation and Were Blessed
At the start of my first calendar year as the pastor of this church, I gave the congregation a challenge: I encouraged them to read through the entire Bible together, but by using another translation. It was our Chronological Bible Challenge. Specifically, I asked the church to use “Reading God’s Story” arranged by George Guthrie. Using the Holman Christian Standard Bible, Guthrie arranges the scripture passages in chronological order. His approach then allows one to see the story of God’s word. Many members of the church participated in this challenge.
To be fair, I knew that people were partial to their preferred version of the Bible, even the KJV. As a result, I provided a listing of the scriptures to read every day for those who did not want to purchase Guthrie’s chronological Bible. This provision allowed anyone to participate, no matter their translation or possible objection.
The response was incredible! Many who took part in the challenge gave me great reports. Some of the comments they said were, “Wow, I understand God’s word so much better.” That comment came from many who bought “Reading God’s Story” by Guthrie. Even those who used other translations said, “For the first time I see how the Bible is one complete story.” Both comments – and many others – were encouraging but would be forgotten by my poor worded phrase.
When I said, “The King James is from Hell” it was a comment that misrepresents my beliefs about the KJV. Still, I said it, and the story became grossly distorted. Eventually, people were convinced that I forced people to buy Guthrie’s chronological Bible because I was trying to move them away from the true scripture, the KJV. Some said it was my sneaky plot all along since I hated the KJV. Again, I do not hate the KJV, but people’s worship of it. In fact, I often told members, “If you read the KJV regularly then keep reading it!” Never did I want to interrupt their momentum with any translation, including the KJV. My only issue was that the KJV became an obstacle for many to read the Bible daily due to their lack of understanding. As a result, those who misrepresented my original phrase were just as wrong as me when I briefly connected the KJV to Hell. However, there’s a positive that will always remain.
At the start of the Chronological Bible Challenge, half of the church signed up. Not all of them finished, but I counted 14 people who did read the Bible from cover-to-cover. Many of them were retired and admitted, “I’ve never read the Bible all the way through. But, this chronological approach and new translation made it very enjoyable!” Again, 14 people read the entire Bible. Hallelujah! Of these 14 people, some of them remained hardcore KJV adherents, which is fine because they met the goal: To read the Bible regularly. Therefore, church members of all translation preferences benefited from this challenge. That’s a work that God did through these individuals and a tremendous spiritual victory that can always celebrate. As a result, there are also lessons I learned, and perhaps you can too:
Lessons We Can Learn:
- Recognize My Emotions – When I had the initial conversation with the person where I said,
The King James is from Hell” I was emotionally strained. Since I initiated the conversation to use another translation, I should have backed away when our talk went differently than preferred.
- Clarify My Views – Since I see a place and respect for the KJV, I should have praised it more in public. Yes, I emphasized other versions because I wanted people to consider other options. In hindsight though, I now see that my lack of public adoration for the KJV gave room for others to think that I hated it.
- Carefully Consider My Words in Advance – I have a quick and very skilled wit. This ability allows me to talk about a variety of subjects as on the spot. The danger of this approach is I make statements like, “The King James is from Hell” before I can stop myself. Learning from this event, I now seek to plan my wordings more than just speak on an impromptu basis.
- Be Quick to Apologize – Wrongly, I did not apologize to this person until they wrote me an e-mail stating they were leaving the church. Even then, I tried to justify my statement beyond the context provided here. Admittedly, this approach probably escalated things in the background. It gave further room for people to think I hated the KJV. A faster apology without justification would have been the right choice and may have prevented further gossip.
- Move on and Continue to Learn – I will continue to learn from these developments for my spiritual growth. There is no need to rest in the guilt from saying, “The King James is from Hell.” It was a dumb mistake, but it is also in the past. I have learned from the mistake, and I hope my error will help others. God still shined through these circumstances to teach others a love for scripture.
- Accurately Portray Events – In the aftermath of my resignation from the church it was not fair to misrepresent my intentions. The church members who felt my use of the HCSB was for ill intents missed the good God did through those who read scripture more. Yes, I had my responsibility in the matter, but so do others who misrepresented my actual intentions.
- Change When Needed – Traditions can be wonderful things, but when these traditions hinder us from connecting well with God a change is needed. In fact, some of the best moments of my faith happened when I made changes. For those who did not understand their KJV, for any reason, we live in a wonderful time where there are a plethora of translation options. As a result, it is easy to find a version that will let anyone understand God’s word better and then connect to Him deeper.
- Celebrate the Positive – Something both me and the congregation did not do enough of and should have done was to celebrate our spiritual wins. Unfortunately, each of us was concerned with our own points of view. Instead, we should have been more focused on the positive God was doing, both big and small. In reflection then, may we all be glad that people read God’s word more, no matter the translation.
In reflection, there were many errors on my part and from others. Despite these flaws, God can use it all for His glory despite our feeble efforts. Like the stories in scripture, it may take us weeks, months, even years to see the larger perspective. However, when we view his vantage point, then we see appreciation for the past, we see areas where we can all grow, and we gain a deeper love for His redemption over all creation. A recovery made possible only through Christ who is the Word made flesh and who dwelt among us. Thank God when He was put on the spot – the Cross – for our sins He was far greater than us.