Friday, December 11, 2015

Should the Bible be easy to read?

About every six months for the last hundred years, a new version or revision or paraphrase of the New Testament, or the complete Bible, has been published.  That's no exaggeration: since 1901, nearly 300 such versions have been published in English: we're not talking about foreign translations.  Usually, the authors and publishers of these versions say that they're "easier to read" than the King James Bible.  Which raises two interesting questions:  Should the Bible be "easy to read," and, if so, why?

In a certain online forum in which I was participating, we were discussing the various versions of the Bible, and someone added the following comment.  My response, expanded somewhat, follows.

"Well for what's it worth. I picked up my KJB and dusted it off and started reading it again. It's not the easiest translation for me, but it does make me really think about what it's trying to say. Kind of enjoying it."

That is a very interesting comment, and one deserving of some thought. 

You say that you're enjoying the King James, even though it's not the "easiest." Well, if the KJB isn't the easiest for you, then it's not, that's all.

But you enjoy it anyway. That brings up a question that cuts through all the pseudo-scholarship and all the argumentation and all the rationalization, namely: Who said that reading the Bible is supposed to be easy?

Why should reading, or studying, God's word be "easy?" Where in the world did we ever get that idea? Well, I guess that question answers itself: we got it from the world, and, most assuredly, from our own flesh. But we did not get it from God.

What part of the Christian life is easy? Becoming a Christian is simple; although it often happens after long struggles, intellectual or emotional or experiential, the actual act of being born again is so simple that even a child can do it. But, once we've come to Christ, what gives us the right to expect the Christian experience to be "easy?"

The German theologian Dietrich  Bonhoeffer said: "When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die." Christ has called us to take up our cross, and follow Him. Paul speaks of constant, daily self-crucifixion. If there is anything that God has not promised His children, it's an effortless, painless ride from conversion to death. The Christian life is depicted in scripture as a warfare, not a vacation.

And yet, when we come to this matter of the Bible, so many of our pastors and teachers begin talking about what's "easy." We're supposed to reject the King James Bible because it's "hard to read," or "archaic:" we might actually have to think, instead of just reading something written on the level of People magazine.

Is witnessing easy? Yes, in one sense: for a Christian who's filled with the Holy Spirit, and seeking to please Christ, witnessing is sometimes spontaneous and (to use exactly the wrong word) "natural." But it's not always that way: sometimes it's easier just to go along with the crowd, to blend in, to be popular. Sometimes witnessing costs us friendships and social standing and even jobs. Very often, it's just plain embarrassing ....  kind of like using an "old-fashioned" Bible. But we're expected to do it anyway.

Is prayer easy? Again, it is and it isn't: crying out to our Father comes easy to us in moments of crisis or need, and praise flows from us with delightful spontaneity when God moves in our lives. But on a day to day basis, prayer is hard work. It takes self-discipline, and concentration, and real effort. It's easy to spend 90 minutes watching television; but how easy is it to spend 90 minutes, or even nine, in uninterrupted prayer?

So, why should we expect reading the Bible (much less studying it) to be "easy?" Especially if we're maturing in Christ, being conformed to His Image, and learning more and more about walking by faith?

We claim to believe that: we acknowledge that we're in a battle, and that we're to be good soldiers for our Lord. But when it comes to this matter of Bibles, we suddenly become self-indulgent and almost comically immature. We simply refuse to apply our minds to anything that might be difficult or demanding; we want a Bible that's "easy to read." And the Christian publishers, who have a rather obvious interest in the matter, tell us that we have every right to expect this: and if last year's version wasn't easy enough, then we'll be able to get a new version this year!

I realize that "ease" isn't the only selling point of the new versions; the other one is "accuracy" or "faithfulness to the originals." Those are the only two notes that the professional translators and booksellers can play: "If it's easy to read, we'll make it more accurate. If it's already accurate, we'll make it easier to read." But, in any case and every case, they'll change it. They have to; that's what they do for a living.

There's no way of knowing this, until we get to Heaven, but I can envision conversations with Paul or Moses or Solomon or Jonah, in which they say, "You think that Book was hard to read? How easy do you think it was to write?"

And then we'll meet the Christians who were burned in the marketplace, like Tyndale, who might ask us, "And how easy do you think the Book was to preserve?"

I can imagine those questions ... but, for the life of me, I can't imagine how we'll answer.

I thank God, with every fiber of my being, that He has given us His perfect word in English, the Authorized King James Bible: whether it's "easy to read" or not.

1 comment:

  1. Amen, I thank God for His perfect word in the KJV as well.

    It may be hard for us to read the Bible and pray and such, but even at its most difficult it's still easy in the West where we as yet have religious freedom. Persecuted Christians in the "10-40 window" know how hard it really is to read the Bible, or to even acquire a Bible, when they're illegal. They know how hard it is to pray, when they could be killed for doing it. I can't imagine how we'll answer the questions posed at the end of your post either. Will persecuted Christians who have died for Christ come up to us and say "at least you had a Bible to read." Will they ask Western Christians who let their Bibles collect dust why they never opened such a precious treasure?

    Sobering thoughts.