This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The King James Version of the Bible has a long and storied history, but the LDS Church is entering a period when the drawbacks of that 400-year-old translation will become more and more apparent, for several reasons:
• The KJV is not as accurate as many modern translations, which are based on much better Greek and Hebrew manuscripts (including the Dead Sea Scrolls) and several more centuries of linguistic expertise.
• The archaic language of the KJV, similar to that of Shakespeare, is quite difficult to understand, particularly in the Hebrew prophets and Pauline epistles. It may be beautiful, but Mormons are trading clarity and comprehension for aesthetics and tradition. Even Isaiah is fairly understandable in modern English.
• The KJV is no longer the common Bible of English-speaking Christians, most of whom now use the New Revised Standard Version or the New International Version. Indeed, the LDS use of the KJV looks increasingly like the New World Translation of the Jehovah's Witnesses. Investigators will wonder why Mormons can't support their claims with ordinary Bibles, and new converts will be reluctant to give up the Bibles of their youth.
• Some of the verses we use to support Mormon doctrine are odd renderings or even mistranslations. As the church becomes more global, it is awkward to translate talks, manuals and magazines for Latter-day Saints who use more accurate, foreign language bibles.
• Because of our exclusive use of the KJV, most Latter-day Saints have little understanding of issues of biblical manuscripts, transmission, translation or interpretation. This makes it difficult to explain our faith to knowledgeable Christians.
Some may feel that Latter-day Saints have not been able to join other Christians (including very conservative evangelicals) in the move toward more accurate, readable translations because we are not particularly committed to the Bible and its doctrines. I believe it is because our other LDS standard works were revealed to Joseph Smith in the scriptural language of his day that of the KJV. It would be easy enough to update the grammar of the Book of Mormon (as the Community of Christ has done), but in the process shades of meaning and subtle biblical allusions might be lost.
One solution would be to continue with the KJV as our official Bible, while allowing the supplemental use of careful, respectful, widely accepted translations such as the New Revised Standard Version. It is often possible to grasp the meaning of the KJV after reading the same verse in a modern translation. This approach would offer opportunities to discover additional truths and witnesses of the restoration in newer versions, and it would also honor the legacy of Joseph Smith, who not only used other translations (some of which he declared superior to the KJV) but also studied Hebrew himself to better understand God's word in a form closer to the original.
Grant Hardy, author of The Book of Mormon: A Reader's Edition, is a professor of history and religious studies at the University of North Carolina in Asheville. To download a copy of Hardy's complete paper on this topic, go to http://tinyurl.com/4dhnpkz