Lancaster First United Methodist Church
May 1, 2011
Psalm 23, II Timothy 3:14-17 & Luke 24:13-27
Rev. Robert McDowell
“Happy Birthday, King James Bible!”
Tomorrow marks the 400th anniversary of the date when the King James Version of
the Bible was first published in England. Regardless of what version of the
Bible we may prefer, the influence of the King James Version is all around us.
Linguist, David Crystal, in his recent book, Begat: The King James Bible and the
English Language points out that if you have ever used or heard such phrases
such as “the skin of my teeth,” “a drop in the bucket,” “my brother’s keeper,”
“holier than thou,” “be fruitful and multiply,” “casting your pearls before
swine,” coat of many colors,” “my cup runneth over,” “manna from heaven,” and
“apple of my eye” just to name a few, than you have been influenced by this
remarkable version of the bible. Or if when you pray, you tend to refer to God
as “thou,” rather than simply as God, you have a lot of the King James Version
I heard of a pastor share that he had given the young people in his confirmation
class an assignment one year. They were to pick their favorite verse in the
Bible and share it with the entire congregation the Sunday they were to become
full members of the church. This is interesting because next Sunday is our
confirmation Sunday when our 7th grade youth will be joining the church.
So on the Sunday that this pastor’s confirmation class was to join, a girl in
the class got up to share her favorite verse and it came directly from the King
James Version. Her favorite verse was, “Surely he stinketh.”
This was a verse taken from the story of when Jesus called Lazarus who had been
dead for a few days to come out of the tomb. And one of the sisters of Lazarus
told Jesus, “Surely he stinketh.”
You gotta love confirmands!
In his book, David Crystal claims that there are at least 257 idioms that we use
in our everyday language often without thinking that they originate from the
King James Version of the Bible. People often are quoting the bible without even
realizing that they are quoting bible verses in expressing a thought or an idea.
I find it amazing that even though we live in a world that offers over 100
different versions of the bible to choose from, that the 17th century King James
Version continues to be what I consider to be the most beautifully written
version of them all. This is why for almost every funeral I have ever conducted
in which I have read Psalm 23, I have read that Psalm from the King James
We heard this a little earlier in the service, but let me read it again from the
King James Version. Actually, let’s read this together as you see it on the
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green
pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he
leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art
with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me
in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth
over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I
will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
While there’s nothing wrong with using a more modern day translation of the
bible, and I’ll get to that in a moment, there’s just something about the King
James Version and the beauty of the English language that just can’t be
Here’s a little history of how the King James Version was formed. In 1604, King
James I authorized nearly fifty scholars to put together a new English
translation of the bible.
The reason he wanted a new translation was because at that time, the English
speaking world was using two versions of the Bible; the Bishop’s Bible which was
used by the Church of England and the Geneva Bible which was a bible used by the
Puritans and had a Calvinist theological slant. The Geneva Bile was more widely
used by the people and was the one that William Shakespeare most likely used.
For the most part, the King James Version ended up not being that different from
the other two bibles but it did make some important changes where they needed to
be made. Like most things that are new, the King James Version was not received
well since the people were so accustomed to the other bibles. But over the
years, it became the accepted bible.
A lot of people ask me which version or translation of the bible is the best one
to get. That’s a difficult question since there are over 100 English
translations of the bible today.
For what it’s worth, here are some things to consider when purchasing a bible.
In addition to a King James Bible, my short answer would be to buy the New
Revised Standard Version which was published in 1989. This is the version that
is widely used in the United Methodist Church and is what we have in our pew
racks here in the sanctuary.
The reason I would recommend the New Revised Standard Version is because it is a
good version to use for bible study, but it’s also a version that is fairly easy
to read. A few years ago, the New Revised Standard Version came out with a John
Wesley Study Bible which I highly recommend. Many of you have purchased the
Wesley Study Bible and bring it with you to church and to bible studies.
The advantage of the Wesley Study bible is that it not only uses a more modern
version of the Bible, the New Revised Standard Version, but it also provides
very solid and readable study notes written by a balanced set of biblical
scholars. So at the bottom of each page, it has information to help us
understand that chapter of the bible from a Wesleyan theological perspective. It
also includes other notes located in small boxes that explain Wesleyan and
Methodist understandings of our faith.
So that’s my short answer. You definitely want to buy a Wesley Study Bible. If I
have a bible study or need to study a passage of scripture, this is the bible
that helps me the most. And if you’re interested in buying a Wesley Study Bible,
guess what? We have some available this morning on our book table in the parlor.
Here’s my longer answer to the question about which bible translation might be
best for you. When you go to a store that sells bibles, you’ll see a number of
possible study bibles to purchase.
You’re going to want to do two things when presented with all of these study
bible choices. First of all, make sure you know what version of the bible they
are using. And secondly, you’re going to want to be aware of who’s providing the
study notes in those bibles.
So if you buy a Wesley Study bible, you know that you’re getting the New Revised
Standard Version and you also know that you’re getting study notes of some of
the top Wesleyan scholars throughout the world who are writing from a Wesleyan
theological perspective. In addition to the Wesley study bible, there are all
kinds of other study bibles, everything from study bibles for couples, for men,
for women, for youth, and I even saw a study bible that is called the stock car
With all of these study bibles on the market, this has led Phyllis Tickle who is
a well respected Christian speaker and author to say, “Bibles are in many ways a
cash cow for publishers.” In other words, be careful to not let the packaging of
a particular bible be your determining factor. Again, check out the version you
are buying and the quality of the study notes.
Real briefly, I want to offer a spectrum in determining a bible version that
will be most helpful for your needs.
On one end of the spectrum, I’m going to use the phrase, “For Bible Study
Purposes” and at the other end of the spectrum, I’ll use the phrase, “Easy to
Let’s begin with the “For Bible Study Purposes,” end of the spectrum. These
would be versions and translations of the bible such as the one I just
mentioned, “The New Revised Standard Version.” While versions such as this can
be easily read, they also attempt to stay as close to the original Hebrew,
Aramaic, and Greek languages as possible. That way, when you are involved in
bible study, you can really take a word and understand its true meaning in the
Greek or Hebrew language. In addition to the NRSV, there are many other bible
versions that fit well at this end of the spectrum like the NIV which is a
At the other end of the spectrum, the “Easy to Understand” side, there are
translations and paraphrases of the bible that aren’t as concerned about being
close to the original Hebrew and Greek, but they’re more concerned about
speaking our everyday language. There are many choices at this end of the
spectrum which include Today’s English Version, the Contemporary English
Version, The Living Bible, and The Message, just to name a few.
Now, in some ways, it would seem to make sense to buy a bible at this end of the
spectrum because it already speaks in our everyday language, but the downside is
that the translators who came up with these bibles, have more or less made
decisions ahead of time in how certain passages of scripture should be
interpreted. That’s even true of the bible versions at the other end of the
spectrum but to a much lesser degree.
Both sides of the spectrum have their pros and cons, and if you’re like me, you
might want to have a couple of different bibles from both sides of the spectrum
just to keep you honest.
But back to the King James Version. The advantage of the King James Version as
I’ve already mentioned is in its beautiful poetry and use of the English
language. But here are two downsides of the King James Version. Remember, it was
written in 1611 which was 400 years ago. Since then, we have discovered
thousands of more copies of biblical manuscripts that have helped us to put
together an even more accurate translation of the Bible.
The other downside of the King James Version is that as beautiful as the
language and poetry is, the meaning of English words has changed significantly
over the past 400 years. So the definition we might have for a word might be
different from what that word meant in the 1600’s. It’s amazing how quickly the
English language changes over time!
Well, that’s enough about bible translations and the history of the King James
Version. I want to spend a moment thinking about our Gospel reading for today,
the story of two of Jesus’ disciples who were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus
on that first Easter Day.
These two disciples had not yet received the incredible and astounding news that
Jesus had been raised from the dead. All they knew was that Jesus had died a
painful death on a wooden cross just a few days earlier. Not only were they in
deep grief that Jesus had been crucified, but they were also very discouraged
that because of his death, he really wasn’t the Messiah, the one who would
defeat the Romans and lead the people of Israel to freedom.
A stranger ends up joining them along their long walk who later in the story we
discover is Jesus himself, alive in his resurrected body, but they don’t
How could it be that these two followers didn’t recognize that it was Jesus who
was walking with them? This is the strange thing about the resurrection
appearances of Jesus. It’s the same person, only he now has a new body that
isn’t subject to disease or death. Perhaps they weren’t able to recognize Jesus
who was walking side by side with them because they weren’t prepared for God to
do such an incredible thing.
Notice how Jesus helps these two followers to recognize who he is. He shares
with them the biblical story or what we would call the Old Testament. Beginning
with the Book of Genesis, he goes over various scriptures to show that this was
where God’s plan of redemption was pointing all along, to a suffering Messiah
who would die and be raised to new life.
It wasn’t that these two followers didn’t know the scriptures. They most likely
knew them well. They just needed Jesus to help them see the biblical story in
the context of the resurrection. It was only then that it made sense to them.
So if you ever feel like the bible doesn’t make sense or you feel discouraged
because of a situation you may be facing, allow the risen Lord to explain the
scriptures to you as you walk along the road with him. You might not realize
that he is with you as you read the scriptures, but he is.
In preparation for today’s focus on the importance of the bible, we asked
several of you to tell us what bible you like to use in your daily walk with
God. Let’s hear what some of your responses were.
And how appropriate that many of you referred to the King James Bible!
There’s a familiar verse in the Book of Psalms that describes how wonderful
God’s Word is.
And I’ll close by reading this verse from the King James Bible. It’s Psalm
“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”
You just can’t say it any better.
Thoughts & Action Steps:
1. Do you have a personal bible to read on a regular basis? Which kind of bible
would you like to have? One to help with bible studies or one that is easy to
understand at first reading?
2. One of the best ways to learn more about the bible is to join a bible study
or small group that studies the bible. If you’re not already in such a group,
consider joining one soon.
3. If you are looking for a book of the Bible to begin reading, consider reading
the Gospel of Luke first. It’s a gospel that invites the reader to go on a
journey with Jesus from Galilee and eventually to Jerusalem, the place where
Jesus was crucified and rose again.