Jesus Didn’t Speak in Olde English

Imagine this.

It’s the early 90’s, and you’re right in the middle of a barnstormer of a church service in the dead of summer in a packed sanctuary. Central air is not a thing because the building fund hasn’t been funded in over seven years, so all you have to cool over 400 people are three ceiling fans and five cracked windows. Of course, you are in your Sunday’s best because churches didn’t believe in “come as you are,” only “come as who you aspire to be.” Dress like it’s for a first date – with Jesus.

The pastor instructs you to open your Bible. Well, not your Bible, but the church provided Bible because the Bible your grandmother gifted you for your Baptism, you left at home. Okay, it’s lost. Well, not lost, but misplaced because you don’t read it, but you do know where to find the Book of Psalms. Right in the middle. You used to bet your friends some candy that you could open it on your first try at cracking a seemingly random page, but they eventually caught on.

Well look at that, pastor wants to read from the Gospel of Matthew today, The Beatitudes in fact. You don’t know what that even means, but whatever, no time to ponder, pastor is already moving. Bless-ed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Bless-ed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Bless-ed. Bless-ed. Bless-ed. For. For. For. By the end of this passage, you’re bored, bored, bored.

Rousing oration by your pastor as always, but who speaks like that? Not Jesus because Jesus spoke Aramaic because he was not from England, contrary to popular belief. His hair wasn’t blonde either.

The Bible version that lines the back of the pews in most Black churches was and is, as you probably know, the King James Version. Commissioned by James (obviously) – King of Scotland, Ireland, and England – sometime before 1604 and completed in 1611. You may be thinking this was the first English translation of The Bible. It wasn’t. It was the third.

Won’t dig too far into the history of the KJV because this is not an indictment or attack on the KJV that reads like a Shakespearean play. No, in fact, I enjoy the KJV because that’s where I first learned about God and because I didn’t know other Bibles existed. Growing up, I just kind of assumed it was the KJV or a Children’s Bible with pictures and no mention of King David’s bounty of 200 foreskins from 200 dead Philistines for King Saul’s daughter’s hand-in-marriage. I know, right. It’s in there, you gotta read for yourself.

I fell in love with God reading the KJV, that’s why when I pray it still sounds like the KJV. When you pray, it probably sounds like the KJV. There is nothing wrong with that. The only issue that I have with the KJV is that, at times, it is difficult to understand. And it is my opinion that these are not the times for semantics. I serve a God that serves everybody, and if the body of believers doesn’t speak Olde English as a primary dialect, then they shouldn’t be reading an Olde English Bible.

Never mind the theatrics, we want people to know Jesus, and the beginning of knowledge is understanding, and the beginning of understanding is comprehending, and the beginning of the comprehension is being able to read the words on the page. You don’t read the Spanish version of the user assembly guide, do you? You see what I’m getting at.

So, what other options are there? I’m glad you asked. Below are a few of my favorites (Note: No translation is perfect, but they all are serviceable.):

  • New International Version (NIV)… Typically, my go-to.
  • The Passion Translation (TPT)… Recently discovered. I’m starting to love this version. It’s only for the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs, though.
  • New King James Version (NKJV)… like if Shakespeare had a time machine and traveled to 1940’s Cleveland, OH
  • English Standard Version (ESV)… Easier to understand Shakespeare
  • American Standard Version (ASV)… Easier to understand Shakespeare in Cleveland
  • Amplified (AMP)… Easier to understand and also provides in-text context on what you’re reading
  • The Message (MSG) This is like The Bible for Dummy’s, and I like it. I’m pretty sure I read “Jesus and his posse rolled up to Jerusalem” in here. Maybe not, but pretty close.
  • EasyEnglish Bible 2018 (EASY)… I’ve never read this version, but I did recently discover it in The Bible app (YouVersion).

There are more translations. Find a Bible version that works for you. You don’t speak Olde English, so you don’t have to read Olde English. Jesus is for everybody. Also, I use the YouVersion Bible App. I can’t find the Bible that my grandmother gave me, either. It makes navigating the different translations super easy. Also, I’m not a Bible expert, historian, or anything like that. I just love reading and understanding God’s word. I also love making it simple and plain for others. You’re not dumb. You’re just reading a book that’s over 400 years old. The EASY Bible was released in 2018, for context. Would you pick up your Bible again? A different version. Give it a shot. I think you’ll like it.

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