Monday, May 15, 2006

Fairy Tale Version

I’ve been reading the Gospel according to Mark in New King James Version. I should say that I’ve been trying to read Mark. I was raised on the KJV and resisted the move to modern versions until the late 70s. But I have two practical problems with the New KJV.

(I have other textual and philosophical problems, but I don’t want to address them now.)

The first problem is that the NKJV is very difficult to read as a continuous narrative. One can read a verse or two and understand easily what is being said. But it is virtually impossible to get the sense of a story by reading the NKJV. It doesn’t “flow” as good English should.

I think there might be two reasons for this. One is the philosophy of “literal” translation, of trying to follow the word order and sentence structure of the Greek as closely as possible. The second is the attempt to keep the “look and feel” of the KJV. The edition I am using also treats verses as paragraphs.

The second problem I have with the NKJV is that it reads more like a fairy tale than a newspaper account. One of my pet peeves is when people interpret the Bible as if it were a fairy tale where “anything” can happen. Because of the odd language and archaic word order, it is very difficult to read this version in any other way.

It is easy to see why people who read the KJV or the NKJV have difficulty seeing the big picture and appreciating the grand narrative from Genesis to Revelation.

I’ve left out much technical detail to keep this short. But I would be glad to expand on my position in the comments if you have questions.

Pastor Rod

“Helping You Become the Person God Created You to Be”


Chuck said...

I read the gospels and Acts a few months ago in the NKJV and found it pretty easy going. That is, I had no problem with the meaning or sense of it, but I wasn't really trying to see it as part of an overall whole. I can understand the problem of style particularly since the KJV/NKJV treats the entire Bible as if it were a work of literature in an artistic sense whereas the NT, for example, was never intended to be an aesthetic delight.

The problem I have with it is the usual textual one, that being the whole issue of the TR. I like the fact that detailed footnotes indicate where the critical texts differ but I think it would be better if somehow they could find a way to work the variants into the body of the text instead of forcing you to look up and down the page all the time. Also, I wish they'd get out of the habit of italicizing words that don't appear in the original languages which I think is being overscrupulous about literalness and is visually distracting. I think most people can handle the idea that it might be necessary to insert words in the English text for clarity because people don't express the same idea in exactly the same terms in different languages. So my problems with it are more technical, I guess, than stylistic. (I have a study version which doesn't separate each verse but groups them into normal paragraphs which might help in reading.)

Maybe the reason I don't find the style particularly grating is that I more or less expect it to be in the same vein as the KJV but more readable, and I think on those terms it fulfills its aims. Was it not intended that people could follow along with someone reading the KVJ and still have the two versions mesh pretty closely?

As an aside, I'm reading the OT in the TNIV and I like it very much. I'm not sure how well I could make it through with the NKJV though I'd like to try a more formal version of the Psalms as well just for comparison.

And one last thing: Penguin Classics is coming out with a KJV in paragraph form in July or August, depending on where you live. The ISBN is 0141441518 and you can see more info here:

It would be interesting to see if the KJV will be more readable in paragraph form than with the verses printed separately.

Pastor Rod said...


You did a good job of outlining some of my "technical" problems with the NKJV.

My main point was that the NKJV (in contrast with the NIV) never allows you to forget that you are reading something written a long time ago in a different language.

This contributes to the feeling that it is not describing something real but something more like what you would encounter in a fairy tale.


Chris said...

I've never quite understood the appeal of the NKJV. If you want a Bible in 400 year old English, there's a perfectly good one already there - just learn the language properly. If you want a more modern one, there are better contemporary versions.

But one of your apparently 'negative' comments about the NKJV would be, for me, one possible 'positive'. You wrote that the NKJV "never allows you to forget that you are reading something written a long time ago in a different language". Well, of course, you are. The translation I usually read, the New Living, does a good job of obscuring that most of the time.

Why would that be a problem? Well, it blinds you to the fact that, even while you are reading the timeless message of God, you're also reading the very culturally time-bound words of a mere mortal writing, perhaps, in some middle-eastern mud-brick building in a world without cars, planes, internet ... no, forget that, even without spectacles, buttons and America (well, America's there, of course, but you know what I mean). Remembering that huge cultural gap can be helpful before you just start slapping 'proof-text' answers over contemporary issues like stem-cell research, transgender marriages or the role of women in society.

So it seems to me that a Bible which fosters that sense of distance could have a place. Although I won't be rushing out for my copy of the NKJV; trying to read the NT in Greek works far more effectively - especially if your Greek is as rubbish as mine!

Pastor Rod said...


You have a valid point. But I meant that the NKJV creates an artificial distance between the text and the reader. It reminds me of translations of Greek and Latin authors that are done in Elizabethan English. The purpose of the translation is to put the text in one's own language.

A good translation will not obscure the cultural differences. It will make them more obvious.