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“King James Only” and the classroom

September 2, 2010

I am three weeks into an introductory course on the New Testament that all freshman at our college are required to take. There are about 40 students in the class and the demographics are diverse. There’s a kid from Germany on a volleyball scholarship, a girl from Russia, an avid surfer from San Diego, and a host of kids from all over North Carolina. From their comments, questions, and occasional blank stares, it is clear that many of them have had little, if any exposure, to the NT. However, there is at least one student who has read the NT. . . .but only in the King James Version.

I have encountered the phenomenon known as “King James Onlyism” many times in the past but never quite in this way. Usually I have encountered the position as it sputters from the lips of a bombastic, enthusiastic advocate -often accompanied by a denigration of the “satanic modern versions” that somehow impugn the NT’s view of Jesus.

But this student was different. She wasn’t loud or obnoxious. She was meek and quiet. In our conversation about bible versions she looked as though she might be physically sick if made to read anything other than the KJV. As she softly made her case for reading the KJV I told her to think of the NRSV as nothing more than a textbook, adding that no corruption would reach her just from reading a different version. Her response: “I’m not so sure about that.”

In the end we reached a compromise that both parties were happy with but it reminded me once again that what students hear and learn in their faith communities is often so influential as to make them impervious to our best attempts at teaching them to think critically.

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