In some circles it seems to be popular to claim that KJV is much more suitable for public reading than most modern Bible versions. Indeed there are many places where modern versions are not at all suitable for this, because they can be understood properly only in written form and not when read aloud. But it is not only modern versions which have this kind of defect.
I came across a seriously misleading place of this kind in KJV when I recently heard Psalm 137 read out from this version. As I listened to verse 7, I heard
Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem, who said, Raise it, raise it …
Hold on, I thought, that can’t be right! I know the verse as more like
Remember, LORD, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell. “Tear it down,” they cried, “tear it down …” (TNIV)
So why is KJV saying the exact opposite of TNIV? Is there some obscure textual issue here? Well, I began to wonder when I heard the end of the verse in KJV, “even to the foundations thereof” (TNIV “to its foundations”). How can something be raised to its foundations? I was quite distracted from the rest of the reading, and the preacher’s exposition of it, until I realised that perhaps the word in KJV was not “raise” but “rase” – as indeed was confirmed when I found a printed KJV.
So here is an example of KJV doing exactly what should never be done in a text intended for public reading: using a rare homophone of a common word in a context in which the common word makes some sense. In such circumstances listeners are certain to understand the common word rather than the rare one, or at the very best to become confused as I did.
I suppose some might wonder whether “raise” and “rase” were homophones, pronounced the same, at the time that KJV was translated. It is my understanding that the great vowel shift which made these words into homophones was essentially complete by 1600, and so the KJV translators should have realised the ambiguity of their wording. They can’t even claim the defence that they were copying the wording from older translations predating the great vowel shift: Coverdale has “Down with it, down with it”. Nor can KJV be defended on the ground that “rase” relatively less rare in KJV: this is the only place this verb is used in KJV, but “raise” is used well over 100 times.
So I think we all have to accept that KJV just like many modern translations has places which are quite unsuitable for public reading. I don’t suppose any translation is perfect in this respect. But things are likely to be much better with translations which have been read through carefully by stylists sensitive to this particular issue. I wonder which translations have been checked in this way.