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Owning the KJV in America

A recent USA Today article touts the ubiquitousness of the King James Version (KJV) Bible in the United States. They’re cribbing off of a Lifeway Research study that shows “82 percent of Americans who read the Bible at least once a month own a KJV.”

The article includes a video that serves as a good primer on the history and appeal of the KJV:

The USA Today story slightly misconstrues Lifeway’s research, however. Aside from an initial question about whether or not the person reads the Bible monthly, the study is concerned with KJV ownership than active readership. Owning doesn’t necessarily mean reading, a truism that those of us lucky enough to own more than one Bible are well aware of. The study instead focuses on what it is that draws readers into this 400 year old text. Here’s an excerpt from Lifeway’s article about the study:

When asked to indicate whether five specific statements had been their experience with the KJV, many adult Americans respond positively to: “I have found the language to be beautiful” (31 percent) and “I have found the language to be easy to remember” (23 percent).

The experience of some is less complimentary, responding, “I have found the language to be hard to understand” (27 percent) and “I have found the language to be outdated” (16 percent).

It’s interesting to see that nearly a third of the responders liked the KJV for its language, and nearly a third confessed to finding the language difficult or outdated. This calls to mind a recent New York Times article, “Why the King James Bible Endures,” which notes that even in its time, the language used by the KJV’s translators was considered archaic:

The King James Bible was deliberately archaic in grammar and phraseology: an expression like “yea, verily,” for example, had gone out of fashion some 50 years before. The translators didn’t want their Bible to sound contemporary, because they knew that contemporaneity quickly goes out of fashion.

You can read the full research in .pdf form from Lifeway’s site.

Filed under King James Version, The Bible, Translations