Is the King James Bible harder to read?

Is the King James Bible harder to read?


Terry Watkins Dial-the-Truth Ministries

People have been conned with the lie that the new versions are much easier to understand. I’ve heard many times, “The King James is too hard to understand.”

But the facts tell a different story. . .

Gail Riplinger has a chapter in her best-selling New Age Bible Versions titled “King James for Kids”. Mrs. Riplinger provides 23 pages of irrefutable evidence proving the King James Bible is far easier to understand and read. She lists over 350 examples in the New Testament where the King James Bible is much easier and simpler to understand.

In comparing the first chapter of the first and last books of the Old and New Testaments, the Flesch-Kincaid research company’s Grade Level Indicator shows “The KJV ranks easier in 23 out of 26 comparisons” (Riplinger, New Age Bible Versions, 1994, p. 195) betrays the strictly

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Indicator
KJV
Grade
Level
NIV
Grade
Level
NASB
Grade
Level
TEV
Grade
Level
NKJV
Grade
Level
Gen. 1 4.4 5.1 4.7 5.1 5.2
Mal. 1 4.6 4.8 5.1 5.4 4.6
Matt. 1 6.7 16.4 6.8 11.8 10.3
Rev. 1 7.5 7.1 7.7 6.4 7.7
Grade
Level
Average
5.8 8.4 6.1 7.2 6.9

(table from New Age Bible Versions, p. 196, highlight added)Mrs. Riplinger writes:

“Why is the KJV easier to read? The KJV uses one or two syllable words while new versions substitute complex multi-syllable words and phrases.” (Ibid, p. 196) She lists over 270 examples in the New Testament. Mrs. Riplinger also attributes the King James’s ease of understanding to “Simple sentence structure. . ..” (Ibid, p. 204) She again lists many examples.

In her book, The Language of the King James Bible, Mrs Riplinger continues her research in the readability of the King James Bible. Mrs. Riplinger documents under the subtitle “Statistical Verification of Readability”:

“Readability statistics generated from Grammatik and Word for Windows show why the KJV is 5th grade reading level, while the NKJV and NASB are 6th grade, and the NIV is 8th grade reading level! The KJV averages:

  • less syllables per word
  • less letters per word
  • less words per sentence
  • smaller percentage of long words
  • greater percentage of short words than the NKJV, NIV, NASB and NRSV

According to readability statistics generated by Pro-Scribe, the KJV is easier to read than USA Today, People Magazine and most children’s books.”
(Riplinger, The Language of the King James Bible, p. 159

Readability Analysis of Writing Samples
TEXT Grade Syllables
Per Word
Words over
9 Letters
 USA Today 9 1.5 10%
 People Magazine 8 1.5 10%
 Children’s Books 7 1.3 8%
 King James Bible, New Testament 7 1.3 3%

(table from The Language of the King James Bible, p 159, highlight added)The Comparative Readability of the Authorized Version

The Bible for Today published an interesting and revealing book titled, The Comparative Readability of the Authorized Version by D.A. Waite, Jr. Using computer readability software (Grammatik 4.0, Grammatik 5.0, Word for Windows) Mr. Waite, spent hundreds of hours, lasting over three years, analyzing every word in the King James Bible, the American Standard Version (ASV), the Revised Standard Version (RSV), the New American Standard Version (NASV), the New International Version (NIV), the New King James Version (NKJV) and the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

Mr. Waite did not twist, nor slant any of the results but simply let the results speak for themselves. In fact, Mr. Waite confessed before beginning the research, he was fully expecting the newer versions to out score the “old” King James Bible. Mr. Waite writes, “Quite frankly, I was surprised at the results.” (D.A. Waite Jr, The Comparative Readability of the Authorized Version, p. 4) The Comparative Readability of the Authorized Version is an exhaustive and serious study. It contains detailed tables, charts, documentation, analysis of every conceivable readability tests known. The King James Bible outscored the new versions in virtually every test.

Some of Mr. Waite’s analysis:

“According to the F-K [Flesch-Kincaid] formula 74.3% of the books [in the KJV] are on or below the sixth grade level, and 94% are on or below the seventh grade level! . . . And the FRE [Flesch Reading Ease] rated 97% of the KJV books as Fairly Easy or Easy! These were all first place statistics!” (Ibid, p. 80)

Mr. Waite summarizes his extensive analysis:

If any of these seven versions is authorized to boast about its success in these rigorous readability contests, it is the Authorized Version. [KJV]. If any has the right to flaunt the crown of victory, it is the KING James Bible.” (Ibid, p. 80)

It’s also worth noting, the New International Version (NIV), continually scored the worst, in some cases, much worse. So much for the nonsense about the King James being “harder to read”.

The Experts AgreeDr. Rudolf Flesch is the leading authority, researcher and author on readability studies. Dr. Flesch is the originator of the famous Flesch-Kincaid readability standards. His book Why Johnny Can’t Read is a eye-opening, best-seller. In Dr. Flesch’s book, The Art of Plain Talk, he makes the following noteworthy statement about the King James Bible:

The best example of very easy prose (about 20 affixes per 100 words) is the King James Version of the Bible: . . .”
(Rudolf Flesch, The Art of Plain Talk, p. 43)

Several times in his book, Dr. Flesch praises the King James Bible for it’s ease of reading. And may I remind you, this is from the leading authority on the subject.

Echoing the opinion of Dr. Flesch in The Art of PLAIN Talk, the Apostle Paul writes the scriptures use “GREAT plainness of speech”.

Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech:
KJV, 2 Corinthians 3:12

As a fitting comparison, notice the NKJV and the NIV (as do the other new versions) lack the “plainness of speech”.

NKJV
Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech; NIV
Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.

The national bestseller, The Story of English, writes of the simplicity of the King James Bible:

“The King James Bible was published in the year Shakespeare began work on his last play, The Tempest. Both the play and the Bible are masterpieces of English, but there is one crucial difference between them. Whereas Shakespeare ransacked the lexicon, the King James Bible employs a bare 8000 words—God’s teaching in homely English for everyman.”
(Robert McCrum, William Cran, and Robert MacNeil, The Story of English, p. 113)

The Norton Anthology of Literature, selected the King James Bible as one of the finest examples of writing style in existence. (cited in New Age Bible Versions, p. 212)

The Story of English crowns the King James Bible as, “probably the single most influential book ever published in the English language.” (Robert McCrum, William Cran, and Robert MacNeil, The Story of English, p. 109)

One of the amazing personalities of the King James Bible is it’s poetic beauty. Nothing ever penned in the English language can match it’s sound and rhythm. For a work of it’s volume and serious subject matter – the poetic splendor defies human logic. The very sound of reading of the King James Bible bears the resemble of a music concerto. It’s timbre grabs you, as it’s melody sings God’s word. What an amazing book!

It’s worth noting the emphasis the King James translators placed, not only on the readable text of the King James Bible, but also it’s sound. Before the King James Bible was published and after the initial translation work was completed, a re-working took place, The Story of English describes this unique process, “they were to go through the text, re-working it so that it would not only read better but sound better, a quality for which it became famous throughout the English-speaking world.” (Robert McCrum, William Cran, and Robert MacNeil, The Story of English, p. 112)

The words of Romans 10:17-18 comes ringing through:

Romans 10:17-18, KJV
17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
18 But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.

Notice how the NIV completely loses this melody in the “sound” of the “words”. It’s now simply a message and a voice.

NIV, Romans 10:17
17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.
18 But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did: “Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

There is a wonder and amazement at the majestic words of the King James Bible. They literally capture you with their beauty and awe: Former President Ronald Reagan, during one of his famous radio addresses, spoke on the God News for Modern Man Bible in comparison to the King James Bible. Mr. Reagan describes the difference:

“The sponsors of the ‘Good News’ version boast that their bible is as readable as the daily paper—and so it is. But do readers of the daily news find themselves moved to wonder, ‘at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth’”?
(Reagan In His Own Voice, Cd Audio, Disk 4, Track 2)
(Reagan In His own Hand, p. 409-411)

If the new versions are so much “easier to understand and read” — why is it that according to surveys by Barna Research of people who read their Bible on a daily basis, “The King James Version is more likely to be the Bible read during the week than is the NIV by a 5:1 ratio.”(Barna Research, The Bible survey, http://www.barna.org/cgi-bin/PageCategory.asp?CategoryID=7)

Why do people, including teenagers, ACTUALLY read the King James Bible FAR more than any other Bible?

Simple. . . The King James Bible is the words of God.

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:
John 10:276 The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.
7 Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.
Psalms 12:6

“I want to know one thing — the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God Himself has condescended to teach the way; for this very end He came from heaven. He hath written it down in a Book.

O give me that Book! At any price, give me the Book of God!”

John Wesley

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2 thoughts on “Is the King James Bible harder to read?

  1. Thanks for dropping your comment BJ 🙂

    First: The King James Version of the Bible is NOT archaic as you stated in your comment. Because a lot of modern English phrases used today are actually from the King James Bible …

    Secondly, You seems to treasure your modern translations more than the old King James Bible BUT have you asked yourself why are thousands of scriptures deleted, or altered in these translations? Why are they deliberately attacking the Godhead, virgin birth, Jesus’ incarnation, His Second coming and a countless others? Have you understood why Satan and Jesus bears the same title in these translations?

    Thirdly, did God tell you to leave King James Bible for all the Laodicean Modern Bible because HE couldn’t explain the intended meaning of the verses to you?

    The truth remains the truth: all modern translation of the Bible are Corrupt! We better you careful where we drink our water.

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  2. …for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest. (Joshua 1:9 KJV)
    …for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (NIV)
    …For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (NLT)

    Number of archaisms: KJV 4 NIV 0 NLT 0

    Ephesians 1:3-23 in the KJV
    Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: that in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: in whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: that we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory. Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.

    Number of sentences: KJV – 4 (one beginning with a conjunction)
    Number for the same passage – 13 (NIV), 23 (NLT)

    Not only is the KJV archaic and ridiculously complex, it is bad grammar. I’m curious the background and bias of the writer you are sourcing in this article. Using syllables per word and word length as markers for readability is disingenuous, misleading and patently false. I love the King James. The beauty and poetry it uses is unmatched. It has a rich and strong history. When it comes to word for word accuracy NASB takes the cake but it sacrifices readability, true readability, not the nonsense your article states, in return. The NIV has the most problem issues, but they cleaned most of them up with their newest edition. The old NIV is also the version I’ve done the most memorizing in. I prefer the NLT for casual reading but prefer the NASB when it comes to serious study. Each version has its strengths and its weaknesses. To put one over and above to the exclusion of all the others is dangerous. At worst, it borders on idolatry. At best, it is wasting time and energy that should be spent on far more important issues.

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