Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
Long live the King
Long live the King BY JOAN KERN, Correspondent
For some Christians, the King James Version of the Bible is like pop music: They love the beat but can't understand some of the lyrics.
"The King James Bible can sound stilted with its 'thees' and 'thous,' but for its time it was a very good translation and a very beautiful use of the English language," says Jeff Bach, director of the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College.
The college is hosting a free, traveling exhibit this month titled "Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible." It was organized in 2011 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the first printing of the King James Bible.
The exhibit, which runs through Feb. 21, begins today at 7:45 a.m. at High Library, 1 Alpha Drive Elizabethtown. A free opening reception will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. today at the library.
On Feb. 20, the college will host "The King James Version: Your Family Bible Memories" at 7 p.m. in the library. People are encouraged to bring their family KJV Bibles and read from them.
Elizabethtown is the only stop the exhibit will make in Pennsylvania. Overall, the exhibit will appear at 40 sites in 27 states. For more information, go to www.manifoldgreatness.org and www.etown.edu/bible.
Bach, who has a doctorate in religion from Duke University, recently viewed the exhibit in Washington, D.C., and has extensively studied the KJV.
"I'm really interested in the King James Version because it reflects what people's religious interests were," Bach says.
He says during Queen Elizabeth's reign, the people who wanted broader reform used the Geneva Bible, but King James I hated it because some of its notes criticized the throne.
The translation was done by approximately 47 scholars serving on six committees, two each at Westminster Abbey, Cambridge and Oxford. The Authorized Version, commonly known as the King James Bible, was completed in 1611.
"It was a large group with a lot of specialists in different languages," he says. "They worked more carefully with ancient texts than any one else."
Bach, noting that there are now hundreds of English translations of the Bible, says denominations that continue to use the KJV today include the Assemblies of God, Brethren in Christ, Nazarenes, Church of God, some Baptists and most Pentecostals. According to their website, Christian Scientists also use it. The Quakers adhere to the Geneva Bible.
Few mainline denominations use the KJV. Newer translations are easier to read and include information discovered after 1611.The Rev. Mark L. Russell, senior pastor at the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, 750 Greenfield Road, appreciates the beauty of the language in the KJV but prefers the Revised Standard Version.
"(The KJV is) a landmark from the English language standpoint, but that's a long time ago," he says. "It's wonderful writing, beautiful language, but it's just inaccessible, and there's been so much scholarship since then."
Russell refers to manuscripts such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were almost 2,000 years old when they were discovered between 1946 and 1956, which took decades to understand and incorporate into the Bible.
"The Bible is constantly changing," he says.
Donald B. Kraybill is senior fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies, a distinguished professor of sociology and religious studies and an international expert on the Amish.
A member of Elizabethtown Church of the Brethren, Kraybill says the Amish use Martin Luther's German edition of the Bible in their worship services and many have it at home. But many also have a parallel version that they use at home, with German on one side and the King James on the other.
As for other Anabaptists, he says about 40,000 nonplain-dressing Anabaptists use newer translations of the Bible, while about 40,000 plain-dressing Anabaptists -- adults and children -- hear or use the KJV. They comprise about 95 percent of plain-dressing Anabaptists, he says, mostly in the Weaverland Old Order Mennonite Conference.
"It is the real Bible, the Bible I grew up with, the Bible Plain Mennonites (not assimilated) grew up with," he says. "The KJV is basically viewed as (their) traditional Bible, having a higher authority than new translations that these groups would think not relevant. The KJV is (their) gold standard."
Ken Sensenig, assistant director at the East Coast office of the Mennonite Central Committee in Akron says members of the Weaverland Conference drive black cars, explaining that they used to be called "black bumper" Mennonites but now bumpers usually match the color of the car.
Sensenig, 58, is a member of Habecker Mennonite Church and grew up in Martindale Mennonite Church, both now in the Lancaster Mennonite Conference. He says LMC churches used the KJV until the 1980s, when they switched to the New International Version.
"Any of us our age would have memorized the KJV, would have it in our heads," he says. "I don't use it now, but I grew up with and I know it. It's the dividing line between the more conservative and the more progressive Mennonites."
Amos Hoover, 79, of Ephrata, is archivist at Muddy Creek Farm Library, which is affiliated with the Weaverland Conference, and has an interest in all old order groups, Mennonite and Amish.
Hoover, a member of Cocalico Mennonite Church, says Weaverland, with about 45 congregations, believes the KJV is "a little safer."
"For example, head coverings for women, they're pretty strong on that in the King James Version."
Unlike some of his friends, Hoover says he prefers the German Bible but likes the KJV better for memory work. His favorite verse is Philippians 4:8:
"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."
Hoover commends Wilmer Martin, pastor of Ephrata's Springville Mennonite Church, as "one of the more informed people" on the KJV.
"He knows more Scripture outright than anybody," he says.
Martin, with characteristic Mennonite humility, demurs, acknowledging only that he has "memorized more than some."
The 55-year old Stevens resident grew up in Springville Mennonite Church, with 280 members, and has been its pastor since 1995.
He described the KJV as "a thoroughly done and accurate translation."
"We're satisfied with it," he says. "It's what we're used to, what we want to continue with.
"What we get used to is what we like. I like the word usage, the flow of the words, the poetic form of it. To me it just feels right, and I've memorized a lot in it. It would be difficult to go to another and feel comfortable."
Then he rattled off, at breakneck speed, Hebrew 12:2:
"Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God."
"It means looking to Christ, endured the cross, the joy and the glory followed his experience on the cross."
Although the Rev. Wayne Lawton, pastor of Elizabethtown's Cedar Hill Community Church, doesn't preach from the KJV, he will read from it in services and personally prefers it.
"The poetry can't be improved on," says Lawton, 75, who grew up with the KJV in the Free Methodist Church of North America in Oklahoma City. "I often quote from it because that's what I memorized."
As does Martin, Lawton sites Hebrews 12:2, noting that "author and finisher" have become "our leader and instructor" in the New International Version, which he uses in services at Cedar Hill, a member of the New Testament Fellowship of Anabaptists and Mennonite Churches.
"I just feel an awful lot of it has been lost. It changed the meaning. I like that he's the author and finisher. He started it, and he'll end my faith and that blesses me.
"I just like the King James Version. I'm not a real strong advocate for one version over another. I just say let's read all the versions and let the Holy Spirit show us what God is saying."
Daniel J. Crisman, 35, grew up with the KJV in a Baptist church in "a little bitty town" in West Virginia, where his father was the pastor.
"All my life, that's all we've ever used," says Crisman, pastor for 6½ years at Quarryville's Calvary Independent Baptist Church, where the pew Bibles are KJV.
But when he preaches to the congregation of about 100 members, if he comes to an old English word, such as "betwixt," he says he can understand children asking, "What's you talking about preacher?" and he defines it for them.
And if newcomers bring a different Bible to church, Crisman welcomes them. But if someone asks him to use another version, he stands firm.
"I believe we have the word of God in the King James Version," Crisman says. "I believe the word of God is inspired in the original manuscripts and preserved in the English language in the King James Bible."
As an example, he cited a translation that refers to Mary as a young woman instead of a virgin.
"To me, when you remove that, you remove a cardinal doctrine that a man did not have anything to do with Jesus' birth."
The Rev. Chris Herrington, the new pastor of New Holland's Friendship Missionary Baptist Church (American Baptist Churches USA) recognizes that the "these" and "thous" in the KJV aren't part of modern English.
"But when I read the Bible, it's not about understanding the grammar of the Bible, it's about what God gives you from reading the Bible. I've never had anybody who had any problem with it. It's about recognizing his message through his Holy Spirit."
"Since vacation Bible school, when I was a kid, it's the only Bible we ever used," says the pastor, who grew up in southern Alabama with the KJV and came here two months ago. "Kids study it in Sunday school. Everybody in church uses it."
Friendship Missionary, with 15 members, states on its website " … we believe the King James Bible is the perfect, preserved, and inspired Word of God to the English speaking people, and use it only in all our preaching, in all our teaching, and in all our endeavors."
"One reason I came here was the churchwide agreement to use the King James Version," Herrington says. "One of my first questions was, 'What Bible do you use?' It's important to us because we believe it is God's given word to us."
nLocal pastors, educators discuss the significance of the King James Bible, which is the focus of a traveling exhibit celebrating the KJV's 400th anniversary beginning today at Elizabethtown College.