The Summer 2012 issue of Dialogue contains an article by Grant Hardy titled “The King James Bible and the Future of Missionary Work.” The main point Hardy stresses in the article is that the King James Version (KJV) has become so outdated that it now creates problems for LDS missionaries using the KJV in their teaching. Recounting a missionary encounter of his own with a young woman who was reading selected scriptures in her New International Version (NIV) Bible along with the visiting LDS missionaries, Hardy comments, “The meanings did not match up. … The elders were flustered …. In this case, our exclusive reliance on the King James Version … had become a barrier to sharing the message of the gospel” (p. 1). Given how few denominations still rely on the KJV and the popularity of newer and better translations like the NIV and the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), I am certain similar episodes occur hundreds of times each month.
Hardy lays out the problem in more detail.
Two generations ago, when the KJV was the most widely accepted and trusted translation, it was an advantage for Latter-day Saints to also use that version because it allowed us to present the restored gospel in terms that were familiar to most people. This is no longer the case. Several major translations today are more reliable than the KJV in terms of accuracy, clarity, readability, and closeness to the biblical texts as they were originally written. (p. 2)
It’s not just missionaries that have a problem: LDS high school and college students in Seminary and Institute classes have difficulty penetrating archaic KJV vocabulary and grammar. Most LDS adults don’t fare much better. And these difficulties don’t even address the translation errors contained in the KJV but remedied in modern translations, whose translators have access to better manuscripts and better scholarship than did the KJV translators in the early 17th century.
To compound the problem, in a 1992 letter the First Presidency of the LDS Church more or less declared the KJV to be the official Bible of the English-speaking Church. That letter reads in part:
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.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.
Consequently, use of modern translations like the NIV and the NRSV even for personal study or to help explain an opaque KJV passage to an LDS Sunday School class is discouraged.
It would be impractical to simply designate a newer translation as the new Bible for the English-speaking Church. Latter-day Saints who have been raised on the awkward syntax of the KJV might find the change to clear English prose troubling. Furthermore, the LDS Edition of the Bible (which uses the KJV text with LDS-oriented study aids and footnotes) published in 1979 is now too deeply embedded in the LDS curriculum to easily replace. Given these practical difficulties, Hardy’s recommendation is to encourage the use of modern translations as supplementary resources for personal study and for instruction in BYU religion classes. At present, Deseret Book does not even stock modern translations of the Bible such as the NIV and the NRSV. Apart from the LDS KJV edition, only simplified versions such as Baby’s First Bible and My First Read and Learn Bible are listed in Deseret Book’s online inventory catalog.
No doubt readers have their own stories to share about the challenges of the KJV and the utility of newer translations. One topic I have never seen addressed is how other Protestant denominations that relied on the KJV until just the last generation or two managed the transition to a newer translation. Do other denominations have a designated or preferred translation? Was there a formal statement disfavoring the KJV and recommending use of a newer translation? Or do other denominations simply recommend Bible study using whatever translation appeals to individual readers? The experience of other denominations that have successfully managed a transition to newer translations of the Bible should provide a road map for an eventual LDS transition to a newer translation. The sooner the better.