by Lenny Cacchio
I am in a love/hate relationship. I love the King James Version of the Bible. I love the cadence of language and the ease of memorization that such cadence provides. I love its impact on the history and culture of the English-speaking world. Scholarly works and study helps such as concordances are most often keyed to the King James Version. Of all the English translations I have used, I find myself always gravitating back to the King James Version. It is my main study Bible.
But the translation aggravates me time and again. I can get around the “thee’s” and “thou’s” and the archaic usage of certain words (“convict” instead of “convince” and “by and by” instead of “immediately”), but some egregious mistranslations completely aggravate me.
One such passage is Ephesians 4:11-12. In the King James it reads: “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”
The passage as translated implies that one function of the offices of the church is “for the work of the ministry”. Put differently, the offices are to help the ministry do their jobs. While that might not be a heretical translation, it does not conform to the intent of the Greek. Here is verse 12 as translated in the New King James Version: “… for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” The New International Version: “… to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”
The King James, by translating as it does, obscures the role of church leadership in equipping all of God’s people for the work of ministry (or more accurately, “works of service”). This is more than an academic point. It gets to the heart of the role of the church and its leadership. Ephesians 4 as translated by the King James Version could lead one to believe that it’s the job of the professional ministry to do the work of the church. Properly translated, the verse implies that the leadership’s job is to train the rest of us to do works of service. It makes us all responsible and not just the chosen few. It implies that we all have a calling, a vocation as it were (see Ephesians 4:1 for context).
This correct understanding has turned much of Christianity into a more participative venture. Even traditionally hierarchical organizations have come to understand this. The New American Bible, the official translation of the Roman Catholic Church in America translates verse 12 as follows: “…to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ.” This is accompanied by the footnote, “The ministerial leaders in v. 11 are to equip the whole people of God for their work of ministry.”
Christianity is not a spectator sport. We all have a role in spreading the Gospel, and we all need to be equipped to fulfill that role. It is gratifying to see so many coming to understand that. Hopefully, some day we can all be equipped in some manner for works of service.