Demand for an update to the King James Version of the Bible has been growing for years and is being welcomed by those working to engage society in reading the Bible. Enter the new Modern English Version Bible (MEV), scheduled for release in September from Passio, an imprint of Charisma House.
The MEV is the first update of the original Bible texts in the King James tradition in over 32 years. Its amazing to realize it's been so long, yet in the decades since the last update the English language has changed continuously, evidenced each year with the addition of numerous new words added to the various dictionaries.
So why does the market need another translation? Don't we have enough to service the needs of every Christian alive today? With the abundance of riches for Bible availability in America, we have experienced firsthand the Word of God becoming somewhat of a commodity, if not also a fashion statement.
Truth be told, that's not a healthy perspective to have—considering our call to serve the church is founded on passion for and dedication to the Bible. The Bible is important to us because it is more than just a book. The Living Word of God in all forms represents the one item we are most honored and humbled to offer to those who come looking for one. No other book is more important or life changing.
Yet active attempts to marginalize Christianity in our country, and by default the Bible itself, are reaching fever pitch. Cultural battles rage in many arenas and attacks against God and His Word seem to be permeating several areas of society, our schools, courtrooms and even our laws. We seem to be fading into the woodwork of our local communities.
Indeed today Americans and especially the millennials (born 1980-2000) are looking for God's Word to be more than just a bunch of words compiled in a book. They want to actually experience Scripture. We tell them the Bible has the answer to all of life's problems and directions to follow God's perfect plan for their lives. They long to find personal application, understanding and seek to hear the small still voice of God through the pages of their Bible. The desire for a translation that carries the reverence and beauty of the original, yet is easy to read and apply is ever apparent.
The State of the Bible
As a basis for understanding the state of this foundational product for the ministry, illuminating information was shared from an annual study commissioned by the American Bible Society, designed by The Barna Group; The State of the Bible 2014. This study clearly signals cause for pausing to consider how societal and generational changes in trends are impacting the Bible's place in culture.
From the onset the study provides distinct insight into the challenges in America. Amid spiritual decline in a nation that is abandoning biblical absolutes, ambivalence toward Bible reading is alarmingly clear and the need to re-engage Christians is imperative.
"The typical American actually has 4.7 Bibles yet only 37 percent of Americans use the Bible in a typical month. So we have a huge gap between awareness, penetration, and usage of Scripture," says David Kinnaman, President of the Barna Group.
What is disturbing is that many Americans don't read their Bible more than a couple times a year. Barna reports while 80 percent of those interviewed will say they believe the Bible to be holy or sacred literature, less than half actually admit to reading it more than a couple times a year.
"Can you imagine a Bible-less Christianity?" asks Roy Peterson, president of American Bible Society.
When you come to grips with the reality that more and more Christians are spending less and less time actually engaging Scripture with consistency, these observations from ABS and Barna become far more disquieting. The State of the Bible 2014 study reveals that three out of five adults wish they read the Bible more. Worse, only one in five (19 percent) admit to being regular readers (four or more times per week). While they state their knowledge that doing so will bring them closer to God and allow His Word to influence their worldview, various paradigms and daily life, Bible engagement still suffers.
The study also indicates that the majority are not reading their Bible because don't have the time, don't comprehend its teachings, fail to understand biblical history and have difficulty understanding the language as well as locating specific passages or stories. Many have become skeptical regarding whether the Bible's teachings really can bring direction and peace into their lives.
Clearly people need resources to help them overcome such uncertainty coupled with translations they can read and understand by themselves. There is a chasm between knowing what tools exist and how to use them.
Re-Engaging Bible Reading
America was founded upon God's Word, yet today many of our church leaders will tell us we're chasing Europe and quickly becoming "post Christian." Across the nation many see the Bible as simply historical with spiritual teachings far removed from daily life. In light of that, what difference can yet another Bible translation make? Why invest in developing another translation of the Bible and more product extension in an already saturated market if studies show fewer people are engaging with God's Word?
When you consider that the State of the Bible 2014 study revealed that the majority of households have a Bible, it's easy to conclude that regardless of apartment, home, mansion or dorm room there is a Bible likely sitting somewhere on a shelf. The challenge is that the Bible is actually sitting there and not actively read because the consumer isn't compelled to take the initiative to engage themselves in God's Word.
When the MEV publishing team sought answers to this and other trends in Bible engagement, they turned to Joel Ceballo, a research and Bible engagement consultant who has experience with Bible publishers and agencies, as well as research design with Barna. They asked Joel to further substantiate the need to update the KJV.
"In a society where relationships exist primarily on Facebook and advice is dispensed by those whose own lives seldom reflect anything approximating joy or purpose, the Bible is all too often viewed as irrelevant and its wisdom outmoded. For too many, the riches of a life reflecting the Bible's wisdom is locked in a book to which they do not have a key."
Ceballo went on to cite these sobering statistics:
Over a quarter of Americans (26 percent) never read the Bible.
Although the Barna 2014 study reveals that almost 80 percent of Americans cite the Bible as a holy book or sacred literature, only 46 percent report they read it more than a couple times a year. Comparatively speaking, 12 percent of Americans cite the Koran and 7 percent cite the Torah as sacred literature.
In a four-year period between 2011 and 2014, those engaged in Bible reading have remained stagnant, ranging from a high of 21 percent to a current 19 percent.
In a world that is rife with conflict with the very fabric of our society stretched until it's tenuous to the point of tearing, the fact that over a quarter of adults state they never read the Bible ought to be upsetting to the church and to those of us who supply the church with resources to grow in their faith.
Ceballo crystalizes this point by saying, "When we take a moment to consider the majority of Americans are just within a few steps of the words written by their Creator for the express purpose of inspiration, comfort and instruction, proximity is obviously not the issue. There are other reasons why people are not engaging in daily Bible reading."
Ceballo further cites the key frustrations as to why the Bible is not part of their daily life:
Obstacles to Engagement
COMPREHENSION: Difficulty in understanding the Bible's language and context
CONTEXT: Failure to know or understand biblical history or background
EASE: Incapable of locating specific passages or stories
RELEVANCE: Inability to connect content to everyday life or challenges
Additionally, the State of the Bible 2014 study revealed the weight of skepticism has nearly doubled in only a few years. Imagine that. With the increased exposure to the gospel message via television, cable, satellite broadcasts and the success of recent Biblically based movies impacting everyday culture—incredulity is still growing.
The study indicated in 2011 that 10 percent said they were skeptical of the Bible. Yet today, in 2014, that number has almost doubled with 19 percent reporting they were skeptical.
The current crisis is clearly spelled out in the pages of the State of the Bible 2014 report. The challenge for ministerial leaders is to increase awareness not only to Bibles themselves, but the relevance of Bible reading for the Christian looking for finding God's plan for their lives.
To do this effectively, ministerial leaders need to understand the critical questions emerging over the Bible's relevancy in our nation's fabric. This is especially true among two of the largest demographics, millennials and Hispanics, who are rapidly changing the face of Christianity in America with indelible marks. Amidst the changes in society the challenges, churches have to work diligently to leverage both technology and inquisitiveness to enhance the Bible's relevancy in this century.
"One of the generations that we study a lot are millennials," Kinnaman said. "These are individuals who are in their teenage years or young adult years. Millennials are actually more likely than older generations to tell us they're interested in what the Bible has to say on things like parenting, finances, sex and romance, all sorts of like, cultural issues; how to live well in today's society. So while millennials are actually more skeptical of scripture, they're actually more hungry for scriptural insights and ways to live well in today's sort of complex culture."
American attitudes are being shaped by these future leaders. Today, the Bible is available in nearly 2,300 different languages. Hundreds of millions of downloads on mobile devices provide interactive ways to discover, study and share God's Word across the social media spectrum. In light of this, surprisingly many Christians struggle with engaging the Bible and applying its relevancy to their lives.
Millennials make up the largest generation with nearly 95 million strong in America, 22 percent greater than the Baby Boomers. Much like their Me-Generation parents, Generation-Y goes through its own journey spiritually and is less likely to say that the Bible is inspired by God. They don't read the Bible like their parents and grandparents and subsequently are more doubtful as a result. They need a translation that is rooted in the church, but easier for them to read and comprehend clearly so they can apply it to their own lives and situations.
Awareness, interest and confidence in God's word appear to be rapidly dropping among those who are future shapers of our country. Our society is becoming increasingly defined by an absence of biblical principles and presence. Whether it's the growth of progressive agendas, dismissing biblical absolutes from our courts and schools or Bible apathy among Christians themselves, engagement in Bible reading is sorely needed. The need has perhaps never been greater; the time is now.
The Modern English Version: Clear, Reverent and Accurate
"The MEV Bible is so relevant right now because America's Christian churches are facing a crisis, whether we realize it or not," said Chelsen Vicari, author of Distortion, How the New Christian Left is Twisting the Gospel & Damaging the Faith. "We've so long been focused on what's going on outside of our walls that we haven't been paying attention to what's going on within. And within our own sanctuaries, theirs is a group and movement that is repackaging the gospel, that's distorting Christian teaching. We've got to start addressing this problem by equipping millennials, and to do that we can help them with the MEV version of the Bible. Because the MEV version of the Bible is so easy to read and user-friendly, it can really help millennials understand what their faith is all about. And because of that, it will prepare us and equip us to go out, evangelize, and incite revival in a new generation."
There are a lot of modern translations, some better than others, but this is the first updated version of the King James in decades, and it is very well done. It fills a void and has a place within the church, especially for those hungering for updated language that still provides the reverence and distinctive of the King James Version. There remains a strong loyalty to the old King James Version.
What the MEV now brings to readers is a loyalty to the beauty and poetry of the KJV along with the reverence, yet in a language that modern audiences can readily understand.
The King James Version is very much anchored in our culture. A lot of people don't realize that. There are a number of idioms in our language that originate with the King James translation (e,g. "apple of my eye"). As those things are lost, people aren't familiar with their origin from the Bible. So the King James Version needed to be updated to keep it accessible to today's culture.
In 1604 in response to the need for an accessible version of the Bible, King James 1 commissioned 47 clergy and scholars to publish what became known as the King James Version. While last updated in 1982, the English language has gone through so many changes the necessity to update the KJV was overwhelmingly apparent resulting in a multi-year process of doing so. In 2014, once again, 47 of the world's most qualified Bible linguists have responded to the call for a clear, reverent, and accurate translation for their time. The result is the Modern English Version.
In recognition of both the breadth and depth of the global English-speaking population, these translators were selected to represent a cross-section of the English-speaking church. As graduates and professors of some of the world's most prestigious colleges, seminaries and universities, the translation committee is uniquely qualified to produce a translation able to not only satisfy those who have long treasured the King James Version, but to engage the next generation.
From inception, this translation was to be applicable and transformational for the entire English-speaking world. Like those who have gone before them, the linguists devoted themselves to ensuring the Modern English Version is an accurate and responsible update of the King James Version.
Bound by great Christian unity and cooperation, this inter-denominational committee adopted the philosophy of formal correspondence. This more literal approach employs a word-for-word translation rather than a thought-for-thought.
Also at times, the MEV updates some of the archaic idioms that are found in the King James Version for modern readers so that they'll have an easier time understanding what these idioms mean. For example: in Mark 2:18-19, the people ask Jesus why His disciples do not fast like the Pharisees do. The original Greek used in Jesus' response was literally, "Can the sons of the wedding hall fast when the bridegroom is with them?" The King James translates this idiom in the English as, "the children of the bride chamber." Now, the idiom "children of the bride chamber" makes little sense to us today in our modern English speaking. But the MEV translates this: "wedding guests", which is much more easy to understand for the modern audience.
N. Blake Hearson, M.A. M.Div. M.PHIL. PH.D, an Ordained Minister, Associate Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Editor-in-Chief, Old Testament, explains it this way:
"This is an update of the King James Version, the basis of our text were the Textus Receptus as well as the Ben-Haim version of the Hebrew text. We brought all these things together in a way that was very true to the beauty of the King James Version, and yet brings that forward with clarity and accuracy that will enable a whole new generation to appreciate the beauty of the King James in a language that they can understand. And that's what makes the MEV such a great translation for today."
A New Opportunity?
Just as the King James Version has been the standard since the 17th century, the Modern English Version meets the needs for today's generation and for those to come. But whom will the MEV appeal to? It is a translation that is preeminently practical and useful not just for the theologian, but also for the pastor, lay leader and Christians seeking to draw closer to God so they can know Him better and love Him more.
The MEV is user-friendly from the pulpit, the classroom, the kitchen table or anywhere one enjoys personal devotion time. The scholarship is first-rate, and it is rendered in a language that makes it easily applied in the hearts of anyone seeking to hear God's voice. The differences between the MEV and the KJV are distinctive. As with many modern English translations those differences have a tendency to appear less so when one skips across a handful of favorite verses in a cursory comparison. It is important to recognize that the changes to the English language over the years are more significant than can be found by skimming highlights.
"When I first saw it, (the MEV) and it was being compared to the King James, I said, "This is really similar. What's the point?" said Dr. Michael Brown, president and professor of practical theology at Fellowship for International Revival and Evangelism School of Ministry. "Then, when I understood the point was to have something with the feel of the King James in modern language, I thought, this is really well done! So then I spot-checked, because Biblical scholarship, that's my field.
"My degrees are in Semitic languages and things, and I've worked on a few translations over the years as a reader or giving input or things like that. So as I went through it, I said okay, let's see how they render this. Let's see how they treat it. They were not just taking the King James and trying to put it in modern language, they were going directly from the Hebrew, the Aramaic, the Greek, in light of the best manuscript evidence that we have in harmony with the King James translation's philosophy. I thought, they've really done a good job on this."
Consistent reading of the Bible leads to the ultimate goal of engagement. Engagement takes readership to another level, people making time to allow the Bible to speak to them as it reveals through the Holy Spirit's illumination where their lives require alignment with God's will. As they grow and mature through God's Word, their hunger to learn more brings them back to the local Christian retailer to discover the world of what their local store offers. It all begins with the right Bible in their hands.
"We are living in arguably the most difficult times spiritually our nation has ever experienced," said Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. "Great cultural decadence. Spiritual apathy. Moral relativism. Ecclesiastical lukewarmness. What we need is to re-engage God's Word. We need the Word of God to once again emerge as the quintessential standard of morality, righteousness and justice. The Modern English Version serves that very purpose."
Enthusiasm for the MEV is contagious. Major ministries and denominational heads are already embracing it. Demand for an update to the KJV has been growing for years and is being welcomed by those working to engage society in reading the Bible.
Solomon said of making books, there is no end, and sometimes it feels that way with translations of scripture and various Bible formats. It is important to have a translation that they can not only trust, but also find value in for the direction of their lives and those they love, those they teach, and those they lead. The beauty of the Modern English Version is that it not only preserves the cadence of the King James, it remains true to the message of Holy Scripture, and worthy to pass forward to future generations.
Michael Briggs is founder/president of Briggs Creative, a strategy-development firm serving publishers, ministries and the Christian retail community. Briggs has been actively involved with Christian products for 35 years.
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