By Whitney Jones, News Editor
Union University celebrated the publication of the King James Version of the Bible 400 years ago by hosting a conference that demonstrated the translation’s influence on culture and throughout many academic disciplines Sept. 15-17.
Dr. Ray Van Neste, director of the R.C. Ryan Center for Biblical Studies and associate professor of biblical studies, coordinated the conference called “KJV 400: Legacy and Impact,” and said its purpose was to share the history of the translation and bring together different disciplines on campus as well as throughout the community.
“There are also lessons for us today of saying, ‘What was God doing then?’” he said. “This was a time when what the church did — this translation — led the culture, instead of what happens today when the church follows the culture. This (translation) shapes literature for centuries afterward, shapes art, shapes poetry. It has an impact on politics and all kinds of things.”
The keynote speaker, Dr. Leland Ryken, is a professor of English at Wheaton College and served as the literal stylist for the English Standard Version of the Bible. During the three-day celebration, he shared two presentations explaining the greatness of the King James translation and the legacy it has left behind.
“The greatness of the King James Bible would not exist if something even greater than it did not exist before it, namely the words that God superintended human authors of the Bible to write,” he said during his first plenary session. “What we call the Word of God is greater than the King James Version of that Word.
“On the other hand, we should not be lulled into thinking that all English Bible translations are created equal. I think that the King James Bible is demonstrably the greatest English Bible ever.”
Ryken listed eight reasons during his first session for why the King James translation is considered one of the greatest. Among these were God using an ungodly king for his glory, the harmony of the many translators who were from different backgrounds, the verbal equivalence philosophy of translation and the elevated style of the text.
The King James Bible had such an impact on culture also because it was one of the first accessible English translations.
Other plenary speakers at the conference included Dr. Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala., and Dr. John Woodbridge, research professor of church history and the history of Christian thought at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill.
Conference participants were also invited to attend breakout sessions led by Union faculty ranging from the King James translation’s impact on education to economics to literature.
To show the influence of the King James Version across many different subjects, the conference held several exhibits, which included pieces of art inspired by the translation, an orchestra and University Singers concert, a performance of William Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” and the Green Collection — a set of biblical antiquities compiled by Steve Green, president of Hobby Lobby, and Dr. Scott Carroll, the collection’s director and noted scholar of medieval manuscripts.
The collection of rare biblical texts held one of the world’s oldest surviving Bibles and a Gutenberg Bible, which is one of fewer than 50 still in existence.
BJ Davidson, sophomore biblical studies major, attended all four plenary presentations and three of the four breakout sessions and said he enjoyed the textual criticisms of the King James Version when they were compared to other more recent translations.
However, he said he still preferred other translations in his studies because he has had more experience with those versions.
“I do feel like the King James Version was a good foundation for a lot of scholarly work,” he said. “I think there are better translations, but I do think the King James Version was like a launching pad for those, which is a better light to put it in when we’re celebrating the 400-year anniversary for it.”
Van Neste said he wanted people to leave the conference with a renewed awe for the Word of God.
“I hope they’re struck by the power of Scripture as we’ve seen ways it has shaped life through this one translation,” he said. “I hope they are amazed afresh at simply being able to have the Word of God in our own language.”