If Christians memorize verses from different versions of the Bible, and they sing Christian choruses different from those sung in other church services, can we actually continue to communicate or are we losing a common language of the faith?
Hi, I’m Rex Rogers and this is episode #4 of Discerning What Is Best, a podcast applying unchanging biblical principles in a rapidly changing world, and a Christian worldview to current issues and everyday life.
Multiple versions of the Bible and innumerable choruses are now a part of the Christian community landscape. But this was not always so.
As a kid, I was regularly taken to church since before I was born, so thanks to my parents I’ve been attending Bible-believing churches for over sixty years. This doesn’t make me an expert on all things ecclesiastical, and certainly does not mean I always choose well and wisely. Far from it. But maybe like some of you it makes me “experienced.”
One huge change in my lifetime is that we went from a largely One-Bible-Version world to a Multi-Bible-Version world.
I cut my teeth on the what’s now called the “old” King James Version of the Bible, the 1611 version that influenced the course of Western Civilization.
When I memorized Scripture, I learned the language of the KJV, including all the “Thees” and “Thous” and “Verily verilys,” just like generations learned these passages before me.
When we went to church, we heard the KJV. There were no “pew Bibles,”—not that there’s anything wrong with them. But the point is: everyone had their own (usually black) KJV and carried it to church.
To this day, when a verse comes to my mind, though I’ve been using an NIV for thirty years, what pops in my mind? The old KJV.
When a friend presented me with an NIV in 1992, it seemed foreign to me because I’d absorbed so much of the KJV. My wife purchased for me a “Parallel Bible” with KJV in one column and NIV in the other. This helped me study and in the days before Internet searches helped me find remembered passages. I used this parallel Bible for several years, joking I could “shoot from either barrel.”
My good Dad, who went to be with the Lord in April 2018, was long a source of family joy and a little needling because he’d learned to pray in two ways:
- very softly (he talked on the phone the same way),
- and b) in “King James.”
I mean he used a lot of “Thees” and “Thous” in his prayer. It was all entirely sincere and as such appropriate for this 50-year-Deacon, but it could also be a little funny to younger ears.
Now we have a list of Bible versions:
King James Version (KJV) translated in 1611.
American Standard Version (ASV), 1901.
Revised Standard Version (RSV), 1952.
Amplified Bible, 1965.
New English Bible, 1970.
New American Standard Bible (NASB), 1971.
The Living Bible (TLB), a paraphrase rather than translation, 1971.
New International Version (NIV), 1978.
New King James Version (NKJV), 1982, including some translation corrections and updates of the Old English to modern phrasing.
English Standard Version (ESV), 2001 as a revision of the RSV.
There are more.
Now, I have no problem with multiple Bible translations as such, as long as they maintain fidelity to ancient and original texts.
I am decidedly not a KJV only guy and never have been.
But I do think we’ve paid a price for the multiple versions of the Bible we now employ and enjoy. It’s a kind of embarrassment of riches.
The price—or if that’s too strong for you, say unintended consequence—I believe comes in several forms.
As the number of versions grew and parishioners carried an increasingly diverse set of Bibles to church, they lost the ability to share, to look at the received Word together. To account for this emerging challenge, pastors began posting their Scripture passages in bulletins, on screens, and later, on large monitors.
Result: many churchgoers no longer carry a Bible to church.
People memorize Scripture from multiple versions. Once you’ve memorized the wording of a verse in one version it’s difficult to transpose this to the wording of a new version.
Result: out goes reciting verses together in unison.
Multiple versions may be contributing to a lost opportunity for larger cultural influence, which jells with declining biblical literacy, because:
1) biblical references in speeches or movies, e.g., like those you can hear in 1940s or even 1950s speeches or films, aren’t typically made any more,
2) of the few such references that are made, people do not immediately recognize the biblical allusion due to unfamiliarity with the wording.
Result: declining presence and, arguably impact, of biblical language and values upon American culture.
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What concerns me is not the existence of multiple versions. I realize different versions aid understanding of the Word. I am not suggesting the impossible: “Doing away with” multiple versions of the Bible.
However, it still concerns me that we are losing a common Christian language within the Body of Christ, the Church, and what this might mean going forward for the Church.
It concerns me even more that youth, already living in a highly chaotic pluralistic world, no longer learn or relate to the same biblical text.
This trend is exacerbated by the explosion of choruses, which are not “bad” in themselves and may offer good content, yet but for a few, they are not repeated, not transferable to other contexts, and worst of all, not remembered. People mumble through them. Test me on this. Listen to the volume increase during congregational singing when an old hymn is – if rarely – sung during the service.
What also concerns me is a related loss of impact upon American culture of Christian values and language drawn from the eloquent and eternal, yet eminently practical, biblical text.
I don’t have a quick fix to offer.
And perhaps I am needlessly concerned?
For the prophet Isaiah said, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever” (Isaiah 40:8, NIV).
Well, we’ll see you again soon.
For more Christian commentary, be sure to subscribe to this podcast, Discerning What Is Best, or check my website, r-e-x-m as in Martin, that’s rexmrogers.com. And remember, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm.
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