No book has been read more, no work published as much and no source cited as frequently in history. Passed down for 2,000 years with a message that has supernaturally remained intact, it has shaped the world—from languages to governments to lives—like nothing else.
Yet today the Bible, by many accounts, is nearing a state of crisis in America.
In a nation founded upon God's Word yet on the brink of becoming "post-Christian," the Bible is increasingly seen as a mere relic with spiritual teachings far removed from daily life. God's Word has become a bookshelf ornament; the average American owns more than four copies of the Bible yet reads it no more than a couple times a year. Among Christians, the statistics aren't much better: 40 percent of church attendees read the Word only occasionally—as in once or twice a month.
With such a bleak reality, what difference can yet another Bible translation make? Why create a new version of the Bible in an already saturated publishing market if fewer people are engaging with God's Word in the first place?
Those are some of the difficult questions the team at Charisma Media in suburban Orlando, Florida, asked while preparing to publish the Modern English Version, the most contemporary translation produced in the King James Version (KJV) tradition in the last 30 years. Releasing this month by the same company that began publishing Charisma almost 40 years ago, the Modern English Version (MEV) is a word-for-word translation that maintains the beauty of the KJV language yet provides fresh clarity for a new generation of Bible readers.
It's that unique combination—clear, reverent and accurate—that has Christian leaders and readers alike believing this version comes at precisely the right time as God uses any means to re-engage a lost culture with His sacred yet living Word. Some, like Samuel Rodriguez, sense this translation could be a catalyst not only in the church, but also the broader culture.
"I believe the Modern English Version has the ability and potential to re-engage the proverbial firewall of righteousness in this generation," says Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. "We are living in arguably the most difficult times spiritually our nation has ever experienced. ... 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."
Recalling a 400-Year-Old Need
This is not the first time the Body of Christ has found itself facing such a challenge. Nor are we the first society to feel as though the clarion call of God's Word has grown faint in the hearts, minds and spirits of an entire generation of believers and unbelievers alike.
At the turn of the 17th century, the church faced a similar crisis. And in response to an outcry among Puritan ministers of the day, England's King James I convened the Hampton Court Conference in January 1604. In addition to orchestrating peace between the episcopacy and Anglicans who were considered moderate Puritans, King James also commissioned a new translation of the Bible into the English vernacular. The king's instructions were that this translation was to be satisfactory not only to the church hierarchy, but also to the moderate Puritans who believed the Bible should be accessible for personal study.
Using the Jacob ben Hayyim edition of the Old Testament and the Textus Receptus, William Tyndale's translations from the Greek the of the New Testament, 47 King James-commissioned scholars applied their efforts not to making a new translation, but to making a good translation better. The result was a translation that for four centuries has served as the cornerstone of Bible translations, including the New King James Version, released in 1982. Today the KJV still remains the most popular version, more than doubling the New International Version (NIV) in readership. (For more on the KJV, see p. 34.)
In 2014, amid a culture that's abandoned biblical morals and is largely (and statistically) unengaged with the Bible, there is once again an outcry for a relevant version of the Bible that's accessible and easy to understand, for the sake of re-engaging people with God's Word. And once again, 47 of the world's most qualified Bible linguists responded to the call for a clear, reverent and accurate translation for their time.
Conceived by James F. Linzey, now a retired U.S. Army chaplain and graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary, the MEV is a modern translation originally intended to be used among military chaplains for outreach. Linzey pulled together a team of 47 translators from a wide range of denominations—a miracle in itself, by many accounts—and began work in 2005. The New Testament was completed in 2011 for the 400th anniversary of the KJV and the Old Testament in 2013.
Part of the MEV's uniqueness is how it champions a change from mere Bible ownership to actual Bible engagement by removing the obstacles most frequently cited as hindrances to connecting more with God's Word. Designed as a formal equivalence (word-for-word) translation in today's language, the MEV facilitates understanding of the Bible's truths, history and background. As the Holy Spirit guides readers, they can connect to the meta-narrative of the Bible and experience its relevancy in their daily lives with ease.
"Not only is the English language changing, the culture is changing, and we need a translation that the ordinary person on the street will understand," said Stanley Horton, the MEV's senior editorial adviser and a distinguished professor emeritus of the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary who passed away in July. "The Bible doesn't intend that you have to be a Ph.D. to understand it. It was intended for the ordinary person, so as the culture changes and as the language changes, you'll find even the updates like the New King James Bible are already out of date even in 30 years or so, so that we do need to have translations that are suited to the people that we're trying to reach and minister to."
Retaining a 400-Year-Old Legacy
It's no small feat to embark on creating a new Bible translation with no regard to past versions in an attempt to "update" God's Word with the most current language. In recent decades many have done exactly this in translating from a paraphrase approach (e.g., Eugene Peterson's The Message or The Living Bible) or a meaning-for-meaning, thought-for-thought approach (e.g., NIV, New Living Translation).
More complicated, however, is finding a balance between modernizing the Bible's language and the timeless reverence, depth and poetic language that countless students of the Word have come to love with the KJV. Yet that's exactly the challenge the MEV's 47 translators faced as they aimed for the perfect blend of relevance and reverence.
"The Modern English Version is a Bible translation that takes its King James heritage seriously," says Rudy Gonzalez, a New Testament professor and dean of the William R. Marshall Center for Theological Studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. "Adhering to the principle of formal equivalence, the translators believed that fidelity to the same principles that guided our 17th century forerunners is transcendent of time and circumstance. But the dynamic nature of communication requires sensitivity to making a translation meaningful to a 21st-century reader. Formal equivalence and sensitivity to the dynamic nature of communication worked hand-in-hand to shape this authoritative translation of the Bible, which will serve God's kingdom well for generations to come."
The result is a translation that honors the KJV tradition, particularly in its reverence of deity pronouns. Like the KJV and NKJV, the MEV capitalizes pronouns referring to God such as He and Him. While seemingly minor, other modern translations such as the NIV and English Standard Version have parted from this style. The TNIV (Today's New International Version), which was infused with "gender neutral" language and cultural biases, stirred up such controversy in evangelical circles upon its release in 2005 that many anticipated those behind it would correct mistakes with an update in 2011. That wasn't the case, as prominent theologian Wayne Grudem and a team of reviewers found that 75 percent of the gender language problems in the TNIV had not been resolved in the NIV 2011. (In fact, Grudem and Vern Poythress catalogued 3,686 "inaccurate translations in the TNIV" related to gender language in only two books.) This, along with other issues, caused Grudem to conclude that "improvements to the TNIV have not been extensive enough in NIV 2011, and that some new changes represent a step in the wrong direction."
Both versions prompted such backlash that entire denominations boycotted them. Though the controversy raised awareness within the church about Bible translation, these recent examples of language modernization only aided in fueling skepticism among those who doubt the Bible's inerrancy. Because of this, those behind the MEV worked hard to create a translation devoid of cultural, social and political biases.
"Having previously worked with other translations and editions of the Holy Bible, I can tell you that this translation is excellent and second to none," Horton said, adding that the MEV is "the most scholarly and modern update of the King James Version."
Other renowned Bible teachers and scholars agree. Jack Hayford, founder and chancellor of The King's University and executive editor of the Spirit-Filled Life Bible, says, "The MEV has credibility. I recommend it to other leaders for spiritual formation and discipleship."
Kent Ingle, president of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, says the MEV "has captured the contemporary language while accurately preserving the rich heritage of the Scriptures. It is a valuable resource for all modern ministry leaders. It maintains the beauty and eloquence of the King James Version and precisely communicates the meaning of Scripture to the present-day generation."
And Charles Blake, the presiding bishop of 6-million-member Church of God in Christ, has endorsed the MEV, adding that he's excited about "educating our constituents about it in the days ahead."
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