Is The KJV Really On A Grade School Reading Level?


Flesch-Kincaid KJV Chart
Flesch-Kincaid KJV Chart (http://www.av1611.org/kjv/kjv_easy.html)

I have heard many times from KJVO advocates that the KJV is much easier to read than the other English translations and that readability tests have already proven it. The only problem with this statement is that it’s not true. At best it’s ignorance passed off as reality. At worst it’s just a flat out lie. But KJV websites all over still keep making this claim. Here are just a few.

https://www.wayoflife.org/database/isnt_the_king_james_bible_too_antiquated.html

http://www.av1611.org/kjv/kjv_easy.html

http://www.wayoflife.org/database/isnt_the_king_james_bible_too_antiquated.html

https://jesus-is-lord.com/kjvdefns.htm

http://kjv.landmarkbiblebaptist.net/AVhard.html

So where does this claim originate and why do KJVO advocates keep repeating it? It all came from a “study” someone did, using the Flesch-Kincaid test, to prove that the KJV is easy to read…. which just on it’s face is silly. If it was easier to read then this debate would not be happening. You don’t need a scientific study of word construction to know if something is hard to read. Just ask the person reading it. Either way, below I will explain why the study they conducted was deeply flawed and why it does not demonstrate that the KJV is easy to read.


About The Flesch-Kincaid Reading Scale

Flesch-Kincaid Formula
Flesch-Kincaid Formula

The Flesch-Kincaid reading scale basically calculates scores based on how many words are in a sentence and how many syllables are in a word. The more syllables in a word and the more words in a sentence then the higher it ranks on the “hard to read” scale. So, this test does NOT take into account many items that could make something hard to read.

It totally ignores the issue with vocabulary. Obviously if a person does not know the definition of a word it doesn’t matter how many syllables are in the word or how many words are in that particular sentence. This is the #1 complaint for people reading the KJV. It’s language is outdated and many words are no longer in the common vocabulary.

This formula also leaves out issues with sentence structure and word ordering. This can be overlooked a bit but it should be recognized that sentence structure over the last 400+ years has changed in certain ways.


KJV Vocabulary Issues

Let us first agree that words like wence, agone, bewray, hath, anon, or ere, have little recognition in today’s English. I would be surprised if even 5% of English speakers knew these words. I would be willing to bet that almost no 5th graders would even know the definition of just one of these words. So, what exactly is the argument for not updating the words? Why would we want to continue using words that no one knows anymore? (More outdated words at end of article).

Ironically, this was exactly why the KJV was written in the first place. They wanted a Bible in the language of the common people so it would be accessible to all that could read. The preface to the 1611 KJV even states…

But how shall men meditate in that, which they cannot understand? How shall they understand that which is kept close in an unknown tongue?

Now, the KJV is in decently fine English for the 1611 time period. It was a big deal in 1611 since most Bibles were in Latin back then. But the principle is still the same; if the text is no longer understandable then it needs updated to the common tongue.

Additionally, what most people don’t realize is that the KJV being read today has already been updated a handful of times since the 1611 version was released. So why is it now a sin to update it again? Here is a passage from the 1611 version.

I protest by your reioycing which I haue in Christ Iesus our Lord, I die daily. (1 Corinthians 15:31 KJV 1611)

Notice how certain letters are being used in ways that we would never use them in today. Here are some basic updates from the 1611.

  • I = J
  • U = V
  • V = U
  • Sometimes Y – I

If it was acceptable to update the KJV 300 years ago then it should still be OK to do so today. After all many revisions were made before our current versions which is based on the 1769 version, not the 1611.

The original 1611 was riddled with mistakes and errors. Updates were released to correct those issues and then later updates were made to revise words and phrases that were outdated. A list of revisions and changes can be read here –> KJV revisions


KJV Sentence Structure Issues

Just as our English vocabulary has changed over time, so has the way we form sentences. Here is just one example below…. the same passage that was quoted above.

I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily (1 Corinthians 15:31 KJV)

I protest by your reioycing which I haue in Christ Iesus our Lord, I die daily. (1 Corinthians 15:31 KJV 1611)

I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:31 NIV)

These passages are really saying the same thing….. it’s just that only one of them is readable. The KJV is full of difficult sentences. Here is another.

Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. (Romans 2:1 KJV)

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. (Romans 2:1 NIV)

I could go on but I think you can see the point.


Summary

To be clear I do not want to prevent people from reading the KJV. I merely want to point out that claiming the KJV is easier to read than modern English versions is simply ridiculous. If it were easier to read then people would be reading it. That is the #1 requirement for nearly all Bible readers. Ask any non-KJV reader why they don’t read the KJV and that is why they don’t read it.

Even more, using a the Flesch-Kincaid formula to prove readability of an outdated vocabulary is perhaps the most ridiculous attempt ever to justify such claims.

For further reading on this matter

https://byfaithweunderstand.com/2015/02/23/the-reading-level-of-the-kjv/


 

25 thoughts on “Is The KJV Really On A Grade School Reading Level?”

  1. Thank you for a very well thought out discussion. One thing that gets me are those who believe if you are not KJO – then you are anti- KJV. That is so far from the truth- I often use my KJV as well as several others as well. Once again, many thanks for a great article. Pastor Bob

    Reply
    • Thanks for reading Bob. I actually own a 1611 KJV reprint and I love it. It has useful marginal notes for translation questions and really interesting quotations before various books and headings. It’s a great Bible. But it sure ain’t grade-school reading level.

      Reply
  2. Yes , if we were as educated as you we could read Greek and Hebrew, and wouldn’t need you to tell us what God really said in the “originals” ( which no one has seen in 2000 years). I’m glad to see that your Scholarship level exceeds that of the Royal panel that translated The KJV . The 47 out 54 original scholars who working in 12 panels doing the translation entered college at an average age of 15 or 16 and they were fluently speaking Classical languages before they were admitted to University. Classes were taught IN Greek Latin and Hebrew, not English. So you’ve set yourself a pretty high mark. Your arguments would have some weight if the Bibles you endorse actually came from the same texts as the KJV. But Go ahead and promote Sinaiticus and Vaticanus ( which come from a monastery rubbish heap and the Roman Catholic church) and put money in the pockets of publishers and Academics who due to copyright issues have to have different readings in “their” versions in order to copyright it, and make money off of it. Which makes them harder to read due to the use of more difficult vocabulary words, that get more high brow with each new translation. If you modern scholars are so great why do you keep putting out new versions every year? I’ll give you some reasons #1 Greed # 2 Pride # 3 Satan. NO ONE has yet to update the Bible. What we have had is a taking away of the majority text and giving the people a Bible approved of by Rome. IF you were truly interested in making The Bible read easier a retranslation from different texts would not be necessary, nor would a new copyright be needed . The original Swindle in this whole debate began when the Anglican church requested a modernizing of it’s Bible , and put the job in the hands of two reprobates who were about as Christian as Madame Blavatsky. Who they were enamored with as well . What the Church wanted in the RSV was a updated Bible, what they got from Wescott and Hort was a completely different book from completely different manuscripts . A very underhanded switch If I might add. And I can already hear you say ” But the newer Greek texts come from older manuscripts than what the KJV translators had access to”. Older doesn’t mean better. The Vast majority of surviving manuscript fragments agree with the KJV reading. That is how the KJV panel operated. And even though much of the manuscripts they used were lost in the great fire of London in 1666, Still yet if you took every ancient scrap , fragment and codex in existence and compared them to the TR and Sinaiticus or Vatincanus they line up with the TR , including the dead sea scrolls for The Prophet Isaiah . And the English of the 1611 version or the 1769 if you want to split hairs. Is not the English spoken in 1611, but rather closer to the 16th century English of William Tyndale whose early english readings were aready familiar to the People of England and they associated the more ” classical” readings with the reverence for God . Strangely English language scholars consider the KJV text to be some of the best prose the English language has ever produced. If the text is flawed then God is a liar and we are in doubt of our salvation and the very existence of God , since he claimed his word was forever settled in heaven. Jesus would be a Liar also since he said not one jot or tittle would pass away.

    Reply
    • Your lengthy comment is full of inaccuracies and myths. For starters, the 47 translators were not fluent speakers of classical languages before entering. Also, you just made a blanket statement that every university/school that these scholars attended taught their classics in the language of origin. While this is fairly common in universities today (and even in my high school German classroom) there is no evidence to support the idea that all of the various schools that the 47 translators attended were an “immersion” style classroom.

      Were the translators of the KJV very smart and learned men? Of course they were. Did they make mistakes like every other human? Not only did they do so but they openly admitted such mistakes.

      I am curious to know where your education came from concerning the manuscripts used in creating critical editions of the Old and New testament. Because most people who know anything about biblical translations know that using a mere few manuscripts like the Sinaiticus and Vaticanus is not at all how biblical translations work. Critical editions of the old and new testaments take into account ALL of the manuscripts known to exist, even in cognate languages and copies found in liturgical texts. They don’t choose to use or not use any manuscript unless it has been proven to be fake (meaning not of any ancient origin).

      Furthermore, the fact that you think the Vaticanus and Sinaiticus were both discovered together in the trash tells me that you are more about repeating mythical talking points than discovering the truth. They were not found at the same location and neither of them were found in the trash. I know this because the account of how the sinaiticus was discovered was recorded by Tischendorf who was the guy who made the discovery. You can read his account on any number of web pages or text books if you google him.

      On the matter of the many new translations, of course some publishers only do them profit but the idea that the new translations are harder to read is just silly. No new translation is more difficult than the KJV or else everyone would still use it. Also, if we are taking motives into account, you are being a bit of a hypocrite. King James had a whole lot of bad motives behind the creation of the KJV.

      I assume the two reprobates you were referring to are Wescott and Hort and based on the rest of your comment I am going to assume you don’t know anything about them either, other than the KJV talking points found on the internet.

      On the matter or manuscript agreement…. the manuscripts that you are referring to are almost all medieval or later which by the time of the KJV were abundantly copied because more resources were available to copy and better technology. Just because a lot of copies were made of a certain thing it does not mean it is the best. Also, the copies of the Old Testament that was found in the so-called garbage manuscripts match the LXX much closer than the texts used by the KJV. Keep in mind that nearly ALL of the OT quotes found in the NT come from the LXX, not the Hebrew manuscripts used by the KJV translators. Even the many scrolls found in Hebrew in the DSS collection agree with the LXX and the non-majority text manuscripts. Does older automatically make them better? Not exactly, but we know that the LXX was the accepted text in Greek by Jesus, Paul, and most of the Jewish world at the time that the NT was written so the manuscripts that are closer to the LXX have often been given some extra weighting in deciding which manuscripts represent the most accurate to the original.

      The idea that the majority of the extent manuscripts line up with the TR is bogus on a few accounts, namely that the TR only accounts for NT manuscripts. You’re still missing half of the Bible. I assume you are unaware of this fact because you don’t really know anything about the subject matter you’re speaking on. The DDS cannot confirm the TR since they are OT scrolls and the TR is only a Greek edition of the NT. However, the DDS do on some occasions support the MASORETIC texts used in the making of the KJV OT, but in other places it disagrees with the Masoretic and agrees with the LXX or other old manuscripts. That is why scholars spend a lot of time studying all of the manuscripts to decide which reading is likely closest to the original…. because we don’t have the originals.

      On the issue of Biblical inerrancy, I surely hope your salvation is based on something stronger because the Bible and the manuscripts are not inerrant. Rabbits don’t chew their own cud, Chronicles and Samuel are constantly disagreeing on details about David, and NT quotes from the OT are drastically different from what actually appears in the OT. Perfect example of a relatively easy quote being botched is below…

      Acts 7:14 After this, Joseph sent for his father Jacob and his whole family, seventy-five in all.

      Genesis 46:27 With the two sons who had been born to Joseph in Egypt, the members of Jacob’s family, which went to Egypt, were seventy in all.

      Was it 70 or 75?

      At best, the Bible is only inerrant in the original manuscripts which no one has. There is no one single preserved Bible in any given language. Trying to force such a thing requires a lot of mental gymnastics and lies.

      Reply
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humanist_Manifesto

    Traditional moral codes and newer irrational cults both fail to meet the pressing needs of today and tomorrow. False “theologies of hope” and messianic ideologies, substituting new dogmas for old, cannot cope with existing world realities. They separate rather than unite peoples.

    The cultivation of moral devotion and creative imagination is an expression of genuine “spiritual” experience and aspiration.We believe, however, that traditional dogmatic or authoritarian religions that place revelation, God, ritual, or creed above human needs and experience do a disservice to the human species. Any account of nature should pass the tests of scientific evidence; in our judgment, the dogmas and myths of traditional religions do not do so.

    As nontheists, we begin with humans not God, nature not deity. Nature may indeed be broader and deeper than we now know; any new discoveries, however, will but enlarge our knowledge of the natural.

    Some humanists believe we should reinterpret traditional religions and reinvest them with meanings appropriate to the current situation.

    In the area of sexuality, we believe that intolerant attitudes, often cultivated by orthodox religions and puritanical cultures, unduly repress sexual conduct. The right to birth control, abortion, and divorce should be recognized.

    you should read the whole thing, our colleges have been infiltrated by these secular humanists to bring about the changes they want to see through education, one generation at a time.

    replacing the Truth found in the KJV with the corrupted alexandrian texts is just part and parcel of the changes they wish to make through education transforming our society little by little very subtly over time.

    Reply
  4. my understanding is that many are the foes of the KJV they are modernists, with modernist cemetery diploma’s and degrees who have been indoctrinated by the Bible college cemeteries into believing that the alexandrian texts are the best. so having spent a nice chunk of change and time to get their diploma or degree they accept what they were taught by their liberal professors as truth because they spent a big chunk of change and time to get their edumacation and it never dawns on them they were lied too. so they join the growing chorus of liberal modernistic KJV bashers defending the highly corrupted alexandrian codex who to believe, the “other side” or who you paid a big chunk of change and time to some bible cemetery? it is a well known fact that the secular humanists plotted to take over our schools to advance their secular humanist agenda sadly you young whooper snappers don’t know much about that.

    Reply
    • Your understanding is incorrect. In fact, most seminaries don’t spend much time on manuscript traditions. That study is usually for doctoral studies. However, it’s clear that you have not spent a whole lot of time studying them either because you falsely believe that all modern Bibles are based solely on the Alexandrian text type. This is completely false. They usually rely on a critical Greek and Hebrew apparatus. That is a fancy title for a collection of texts that have been compiled into one singular body. The manuscripts that are used to make up said apparatus include thousands of manuscript not known to the translators of the KJV and the Alexandrian text types are only a fraction of the manuscripts that are considered. In fact, the Alexandrian texts don’t even include the OT books, so clearly more manuscripts are needed.

      The other manuscripts that are used are the Byzantine text types, Ceasarean text types, Western text types, Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, and also a number of texts from other languages that are early time periods, such as the Peshitta and Septuagint. Other manuscripts found in unusual places are also considered, such as Bible verses that were copied into liturgical documents, instruction books, or legal memos. Literally any manuscript that contains what appears to be an authentic copy of the biblical text is used to create our critical apparatus’.

      It’s funny how little KJVO advocates actually know about biblical translations yet how readily they accept lies they are told by others who also don’t know anything about biblical translation work.

      Reply
  5. I can’t believe how bad I was put own by a Pastors wife for saying comprehension was an issue with me reading the KJV. I have 17 yrs of schooling and a 128 IQ LOL It just doesnt flow with me then I have to stop and try to decipher what was said. I read the ESV. If I have suspicions I can always check my KJV. I was told by this woman that KJV is a 4th grade reading level, and basically that Im lazy. That the devil is getting in my way etc…. I’m not sure they will be leading many to God with those insults .

    Reply
    • People who repeat these lies and insult people who disagree are not really concerned with the truth. They worship their own ego, not truth.

      Reply
    • Memorizing verses has nothing to do with syllable length. But even if it was true, how does ease of memorization have anything to do with reading level? Hebrew has shorter words than English so should we just make all Bibles Hebrew?

      Reply
  6. This is a fair discussion but you focus on the negatives and not the positives. Suppose I wrote a post about why I should divorce my wife and get a younger wife, more compatible with the times we’re living. Suppose I went to her and said, “Honey, you have been faithful and reliable to me for so many years, but I find your use of jargon like “whence” and “wherefore” 2 B incon. wit 2day kidz” (See what I did there? :)

    I know marriage and biblical translations are not the same, but I think you can appreciate my point that verbiage and sentence structure alone shouldn’t be the only cause.

    Moreover, there is the recognition that Jesus is a little about tradition. That is, we are instructed to “Traine vp a childe in the way he should goe: and when he is olde, hee will not depart from it” Pr 22:6. So there is the idea that, yes, these words are hard and don’t read well, but that’s what elders and deacons and preachers and teachers and godly men are for. To be the man and teach their families. They should do so with passion and fire so as not to be spit out of the mouth of God for your lukewarm, new age Bible teaching.

    That is to say, “For the word of God is quicke and powerfull, and sharper then any two edged sword, pearcing euen to the diuiding asunder of soule and spirit, and of the ioynts and marrowe, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Heb 4:12 KVJ 1611. It is not redone, revamped, updated, tweaked for newfangled gender neutral, self-identifying, bible shenanigans you forgot to mention here.

    You should not just dismiss the Bible, the true KJV 1611 Bible, because it is hard. That’s a weak excuse.

    Reply
    • Steve, let me first say that your opinion is always welcome here.

      I would like to now point out that this post isn’t about whether or not the KJV should be used. It’s mainly just an examination of the popular KJVO claim that it’s easier to read than other translations and then ultimately KJVOers always point out this one time the Flesch system was used against it.

      I am merely pointing out that it’s a misleading and false argument. It’s clearly not easy to read which is why people make up bogus arguments to defend its readability.

      I would also point out that the KJV is riddled with translation errors and is anything but perfect. I have already written on this topic if you’re actually interested in matters of translation. I don’t dismiss the KJV because it’s “hard”. I do because it’s full of errors and I prefer to read the actual Greek and Hebrew.

      Unless you’re prepared to discuss the original languages I would suggest that this is not a website that your KJVO position will hold up very long for.

      Reply
      • Hi Justin,

        Thanks for the interaction. First let me say, I’m replying here because this is where the dialog is. If there is a better place/post I’ll be glad to comment on each post. I’ve seen several of your posts about KJV translational errors. I would have commented on each, but easy-to-read seemed to be the best starting place. Would you like to discuss in each forum?

        Here are some points of contention with your position:

        1) KJVO was good enough to teach, rebuke, train for hundreds of years. I don’t say that full of ignorance of modern discoveries and education, I say that to the testament of what we have. Are we really going to assume that what we know now may be so dramatically different that those who wrote, studied, and prayed over scripture from 1611 may never have known the true word of God?

        2) If we begin accepting differences now, what happens in 400 years when our archaeology, historical understanding, and updated Rosetta stone tell us something else? Could it possibly take us back to KJV 1611? Maybe. It certainly can’t bring us to a modern translation becuase we are allowing changes to the sacred text.

        3) We don’t have original documents. We have copies, and that’s OK. The more copies the better we can understand the original. But, we also need to accept the current with understanding of the past. What documents did the original 1611 KJV have that we do not? Are there any? Of course there are. 1611 was closer to the original and therefore more reliable.

        4) Original Greek, yeah, I know a few words. Turns out many of them have multiple meanings. Take the word Hos which means ‘Who’ or ‘Which’. The word does not mean “He” but in 1 Tim 3:16, when talking about God, “Who” was manifest in the flesh. He doesn’t fit, it was a “modern” tweak–much like many other places.

        5) KJVO people are better than non-KJV’rs *wink*

        Reply

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