By Bob Smietana
When it comes to the Bible, King James still rules.
The venerable KVJ, now 403 years old, is the favorite Bible of more than half (55 percent) of American Bible readers, according to “The Bible in American Life,” a new report from the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture.
Researchers found that about half of Americans say they’ve read the Bible in the last year.
Among self-described Bible readers, 55 percent say they prefer the KJV, well ahead of the second-most-read-version—the New International Version at 19 percent.
About 40 percent of congregations use the KJV in worship.
“Clearly, then, the King James Bible is far from dead,” researchers wrote.
Jeremy Howard, Publisher of English Bibles and Reference Books with B&H Publishing, says one reason for the popularity of the King James Version is that it was the first English translation to be widely disseminated. Churches began using it and stuck with it because it met the needs of believers.
Then there’s the language.
“Better than any other Bible translation, the KJV conveys a sense of majesty and formality,” he said. “The language is beautiful and mysterious to modern readers. The KJV is completely outside our experience. This may actually serve to sober the reader, inviting them into serious engagement with the text of Scripture.”
Howard said more contemporary translations serve an important role in the church. But so does the King James Version.
“The deep things of God and the human condition invite the use of the best imagery and beauty language has to offer,” he said. “There is a place for simple, clear English that reflects contemporary usage.”
He explained why that might be case “Just as you would not want an English professor from the 17th century to teach your child how to write, you may not want a KJV translator to teach your child’s Sunday School class due to the language barrier,” he said. “But for the Bible reader who wants to be moved not just by timeless truths but by timeless beauty, the KJV is the obvious choice.”
The study did find that King James fans were less likely to read the Bible weekly.
Seventy percent of those who read the NIV do so weekly. That number drops to just over half (54 percent) for KJV readers.
Among the study’s other findings:
- African Americans, women, older folks and Southerners are most likely to read the Bible.
- One in three people who read the Bible (33 percent) do so on the Internet. One in five (22 percent) use an e-reader.
- The opening lines of Psalm 23 are the most popular Bible verses, followed by John 3:16.
- About half of Bible readers (48 percent) say they’ve memorized a Bible verse this year.
- People mostly read the Bible for personal prayer and devotion (72 percent) rather than for guidance issues like poverty and war (23 percent) or how to obtain wealth (22 percent).
- About half of Bible readers say they turn to clergy (53 percent), commentaries (51 percent) or Bible study groups (49 percent) to help understand the Bible. Only 29 percent go to the Internet for help with the scriptures.
Researchers from the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis were hoping their study would shed some light on Americans’ complicated relationship with the Bible.
Most Americans love the Bible, but don’t know much about it, they say.
“There is a paradox in American Christianity,” the study’s authors write.
“According to the General Social Survey, nearly eight in ten Americans regard the Bible as either the literal word of God or as inspired by God. At the same time, other surveys have revealed—and recent books have analyzed—surprising gaps in Americans’ biblical literacy.”