Among conservative Christians, a grassroots backlash against contemporary English-language Bibles has triggered a renewed interest in the famed King James Version with its word-for-word translation and its longstanding authority.

Commonly known as the “King James—only” movement, a small group of authors and other Christian leaders have been sharply critical of contemporary biblical translations for straying from the word-for-word approach. However, many modern scholars of Scripture say if Christians consider the King James Version as the most reliable translation, they will be turning their backs on nearly four centuries of important discoveries about sacred texts, ancient languages, and translation methods.

READERS CHOICE? Some of the momentum for the movement comes from the dizzying array of new biblical products on bookstore shelves today. These translations, paraphrases, and commentaries range across the theological spectrum. For example, the so-called PC Bible—The New Testament and Psalms: An Inclusive Version—from Oxford University Press replaces references to God as “Father” with “Father-Mother.” In addition, evangelical publishing houses have brought to market new study Bibles, new translations, and other Bible products, including the popular paraphrase The Message, author Eugene Peterson’s literary rendering of the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs.

Bible translations can be classified into three categories. First, word-for-word translations, such as the King James, focus on taking the original words and phrases and providing the most suitable literal translation. Second, in “dynamic equivalence” translations, such as the New International Version, scholars seek to translate the meaning and context of a scriptural ...

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