Published on February 10, 2020 by Benjamin J. Montoya

Lexham Press, 2018 | 168 pages

A Book Review from Books At a Glance

By Brian Collins


Authorized is a book that I encouraged the author not to write. I thought his gifts were better spent on other topics. I thought that everything that could profitably be said about the King James only controversy had been said. I was wrong.

Mark Ward makes a significant new contribution to the debate with Authorized. The book’s dedication―to Neighborhood Bible Class in West Greenville, SC―points to why it is so helpful. Ward is not trying to score points in a theological debate. He writes out of a genuine concern that everyone be able to read and understand God’s Word. It is for this reason that he seeks to understand the King James Only position, and it is for this reason that he seeks to meet its adherents where they are.

Ward meets people where they are by avoiding the topic of textual criticism. Most Christians are not personally equipped to evaluate textual variants. In addition, Ward believes that in the grand scheme of things, the variants between the received, majority, and critical texts are not of great theological significance (and he developed a website to prove it: So he avoids the contentions topic of textual criticism to focus on the English Bible.

The argument of Authorized, in sum, is this: whatever your text-criticism preferences, use a Bible written in an English that is readily comprehensible to today’s readers.

Much of Authorized is a case that the KJV is not readily comprehensible to today’s readers. But before that case is made, chapter one acknowledges the benefits of KJV usage. The KJV is the basis of a shared cultural heritage in the English-speaking world. Familiarity with the KJV makes a great deal of theology and literature more accessible. Because of its cultural importance, the KJV became a “cultural touchstone.” Even unbelievers make use of the KJV on certain cultural occasions. Furthermore, due to its enduring impact, many Christians and non-Christians alike have a level of implicit trust in the KJV. Finally, as a result of its cultural commonality, there is a level of Scripture memory that used to happen “by osmosis.”

Given these benefits, Ward acknowledges that there ought to be a good reason for abandoning the KJV as the default translation for English speakers. That good reason is that people do not understand the KJV. Chapter two provides several anecdotes from Ward’s own life which convinced him that the KJV is not understandable enough to continue to serve as the default Bible for English-speakers. Ward grew up on the KJV and thought he understood it well, but he picked up a comparative Bible when he was eighteen. As he began to read the NIV and NASB alongside the KJV, he began to see how much he was misunderstanding the KJV. Later he began to evangelize and preach to people from low-income and working-class backgrounds. They found the KJV incomprehensible. He counseled at a Christian camp that used the KJV, but the campers could not explain the meaning of some of the Bible verses they were memorizing.

The obvious counter-argument is that with a dictionary and some motivation, the KJV can be comprehended by anyone willing to work at it. There are many archaic words that can be looked up in the dictionary. But in chapter three Ward introduces readers to the concept of “false friends.” False friends are “words that are still in common use but have changed meaning in ways that modern readers are highly unlikely to recognize” (31). Because readers don’t know that the meaning of the word has changed, they won’t know to look it up in a dictionary (and they may not have a dictionary, such as the Oxford English Dictionary, that includes the archaic meanings).

People who are invested in the continued use of the KJV seek to minimize the problem of intelligibility by claiming that the Flesch-Kincaid readability index demonstrates that the KJV readability level is around a fifth-grade reading level. In response, Ward notes, that these computerized readability tests do not take into account the vocabulary, syntax, or typography of the texts in question. Ward concedes that a person could diligently look up every word in the OED to find out which words are false friends and which are not. Certainly, one could. But why require this of Bible readers?

In chapter five Ward makes the case for vernacular Bible translations. First Corinthians 14:28 demands that church services be conducted in speech that is intelligible. Speech that is not intelligible is not edifying. The Bible cannot build someone up as it is intended to do unless it is understood by the reader. Ward also notes that the New Testament itself was written in common Greek, not in some special Bible language. One of the benefits of the Reformation was that the Bible was translated into vernacular English rather than being locked away in Latin. In fact, the KJV translators themselves defended translating the Bible into the vernacular.

At this point Ward’s argument can be put in the form of a syllogism:

1. We should read the Scripture in our own language.

2. The KJV is not our language.

3. Therefore we should update the KJV to be in our language, or we should read vernacular translations (79).

And yet many, many people are still dedicated to the KJV. They aren’t ready to make another translation their primary Bible. In chapter six Ward responds to ten arguments for retaining the KJV instead of using a vernacular translation. I’ll note one of them here: “Why dumb down the Bible? Would you translate Shakespeare?” In response, Ward acknowledges that there will always be parts of the Bible that are difficult to understand (2 Pet. 3:16; Eph. 4:17-18; 1 Cor. 2:14). Sometimes the difficulties are theological. Sometimes they are due to metaphorical language. Sometimes they are due to “cultural distance.” Ward is not in favor of removing metaphorical language or smoothing out all cultural distance. He acknowledges the role of pastors and footnotes to deal with some of these difficulties. What he wants is exemplified by a conversation between a child and a teacher related earlier in the book. The child didn’t understand the word “commendeth.” The teacher explained that it meant, “show.” To which the child asked why the verse didn’t simply say “show.” Why indeed?

If Ward’s argument is convincing, the reader now has a decision to make: what translation should I use? In the final chapter Ward argues against “Bible translation tribalism.”  Instead of asking which Bible is best, he wants readers to ask which Bible translation is most useful for a given purpose, such as preaching, evangelism, scholarship, etc. In fact, he argues for the value of using multiple translations. “Which Bible translation is best?” Ward asks. “All the good ones,” he answers.

Ward’s point is understandable, and his argument for using multiple Bible translations is sound. Nonetheless, a church will probably need to settle a primary translation for use in its services, an individual will probably benefit from settling on a particular translation to memorize from. There are some translations that are more suitable for this role, and I would argue that translations that tend toward the more formal side of the translation scale are better suited for the role of primary translation while translations that tend toward the more functional side of the translation scale are best used as ancillary translations.

My other disagreement with Ward is his statement, “I’m pushing for ‘their’ as a third person indefinite (not specifying singular or plural) pronoun—if that’s what the NOW corpus and other tools prove people are using” (72). I would argue, however, that Bible translations should not be on the cutting edge of language change. At some point the generic “he” may disappear from English usage, but at present it is still in use. And it is still understood. Furthermore, pronoun usage has become a cultural battleground. If the Bible is still going to speak to our culture, there are times when translations need to be careful not to conform it to that culture.

Ward’s book is a real contribution to the debate surrounding the KJV. If you use the KJV as your primary Bible translation, Authorized is a plea to at least supplement your Bible reading with a readable, modern language translation. If you have friends or family who hold to a King James only position, this is a book worth sharing with them. Ward sought feedback from leaders in those circles while writing the book, and he deals respectfully with those he disagrees with. He is not asking anyone to abandon their preferred textual tradition. He is pleading for people to use a translation in their own language, a translation that they can understand.


Brian Collins is Biblical Worldview Lead Specialist at BJU Press.

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Lexham Press, 2018 | 168 pages

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