Sometimes the only Bible translation that will do is the venerable 1611 King James Version (KJV). Christmas is just such a season.
There are good reasons to read from a modern translation. The science of translation has made huge advances in the past 400 years, rendering the KJV archaic and even wrong in its choice of some words.
Furthermore, none of us speaks or thinks in King James parlance anymore. Shouldst thou employ such words as "thee" or "whitherest" today, verily, others wouldst consider thee moonstruck.
Nevertheless, as I listened last Sunday to the readers in our church's Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, I thanked God that I was hearing the prophetic Old Testament and descriptive New Testament texts in the King James Bible. The world is yet to receive a translation that can excel the stateliness, the poetry, the pleasing sound, the measured ring of truth in the KJV. Whatever the benefits of modern translations, most of them have all the charm of a USDA manual describing how to avoid salmonella.
Consider these examples from "The Christmas Story" (Luke 2):
The KJV begins the story of Jesus' birth with these stately words, "And it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree..." We are settling in to hear a good story.
The NRSV deflates the story with these unimaginative words: "In those days a decree went out...." Yawn.
Luke 2: 5-6
The KJV describes Joseph and Mary's situation ever so discreetly: "...to be taxed with Mary, his espoused wife, being great with child, and so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered..." Contrast this with the unvarnished factuality of Sgt. Joe Friday in the New International Version (NIV): "...to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born..."
The KJV says that Mary wrapped Jesus in "swaddling clothes" (Luke 2:7). You don't know what swaddling clothes are? Maybe not, but when the NRSV says that Mary wrapped Jesus in "bands of cloth" it makes Jesus sound like a mummy. And what is Peterson thinking: "Mary wrapped him in a blanket"?
The modern translations are equally unkind to the shepherds. The KJV reports that there were "in the same country shepherds abiding in the fields" (Luke 2:8). We rarely use "abide" any more. But the NIV's description that the shepherds were "living out in the fields nearby" and Peterson's breezy paraphrase that "sheepherders were camping in the neighborhood" makes me long for the days when "abide" will make a comeback.
There are occasions when one brings out the finest china, the crystal goblets, the silver tea service, the linen napkins and says, "Today need something majestic." This Christmas, read Luke 2 from the King James Version.
To contact columnist minister Creede Hinshaw at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.