When my kids started reading, I found a handy chart on Bible translations for each student’s reading level on Christianbook.com. I loved it! From the King James Version (a 12th grade reading level) all the way down to the Contemporary English Version (3rd grade and below), I could now give my kids new Bibles in new translations as their reading improved.
I was surprised then, after we moved to Northern Indiana and enrolled our kids in a small Christian school, that the school required King James Version Bibles for all of their students. Even kindergarteners. I’d grown up in small-town churches, and had never heard of that. We used the NIV.
I thought, “Wow, won’t the kids stumble over all of the ‘Thees’ and ‘Thous’? Isn’t that far above their comprehension level?” However, the teachers did a great job of helping all of the kids understand each verse they were reading. Before long, my girls were quoting twenty or more old-time King James verses from memory, and were doing well academically.
I thought, “Hey, a Bible is a Bible. It’s God’s word, no matter how it’s translated. Besides, I don’t want to cause division over something that’s really not a big deal.”
Then, as I left my daughters’ school one day, I saw a bumper sticker on a teacher’s car: “If it ain’t King James, it ain’t Bible!”
They really believe that?
I asked around—yes, they really believed that. “Real Christians” only used the KJV. Every other translation was a perversion.
Without even touching the theology of that statement, there are some nasty consequences to believing this: the average American reads at a ninth grade level. The average American also reads for pleasure at two grade-levels below his proficiency level, so most blockbuster novels are published at the seventh grade level. [Source: http://www.impact-information.com/impactinfo/literacy.htm%5D
This means that the Average American reads five grade levels below the required proficiency level for understanding the King James Version.
This means if you’re not reading Shakespeare for fun, with no editor’s notes, you probably need a different version of the Bible than KJV for daily use!
When a person can read words, yet not comprehend them well enough to truly know how to apply them (say, a car’s instruction manual, or a prescription drug label, or directions on how to apply first aid) it’s referred to as “functional illiteracy.” Roughly 20% of the population of America is considered to be functionally illiterate.
This also means that if the general population of America—reading for pleasure at a seventh grade level—only had the KJV available to them, then more than fifty percent of the country could be considered “functionally illiterate” regarding the Bible!
Remember, this has nothing to do with simply liking the King James Version. This has nothing to do with enjoying the language or prefering the translation. Many KJV-onlyers honestly believe they have no other choice regarding which Bible they’re allowed to use.
How then would any KJV-only brother or sister in Christ know anything about Christian doctrine, the Christian life, or the God they desired to serve?
Easy—they learn from the Pastor, from Sunday School teachers, from easier-to-understand devotional materials, and from books. In other words, they need a mediator to understand Scripture. They need an authority to tell them how to walk with God. And thanks to their “functional illiteracy,” they have no guaranteed way to double-check the teacher’s words with Scripture, to see if this “authority” is speaking the truth or not.
This should kindle a fire in the bones of every Believer in Christ who reads this. The Bible, the Word of God, is unavailable to Christ-followers right in our back yards.
Next time, I’ll go over some of the visible results I saw of KJV-only theology in its adherents, and how their “functional Biblical illiteracy” affected their daily lives.