Writers need to handle Scripture correctly

Aug. 13, 2016 | by Ken Walker

Years ago an acquaintance asked for help with a small Advent devotional. While working on revisions, I asked if he objected to me substituting scriptures from the New King James (NKJV) for verses from the King James Version (KJV). The NKJV struck me as easier to comprehend for the average church member—his intended audience.

“Sure,” he e-mailed back. “I used King James because I that was the only one I could use without paying copyright fees.”

Not true, and only one of several distinctions any would-be writer or book author should know about when it comes to quoting Scripture. While there are exceptions, typically permissions and reprint fees only come into play if you use more than 500 verses from a particular translation.

The key distinction

The devotional author was correct about the KJV not carrying any fees, because it’s been around so long that it’s considered public domain. However, even if it doesn’t involve any money, you can’t quote from the NKJV, New International Version, New Living Translation, New American Standard or other copyrighted translations without noting that.

No matter what version, you need to advise readers which one they will be reading when they flip through the pages of your book. This information usually appears on the inside front page with other copyright details.

If you are using KJV, the notice is pretty simple: “All Scriptures from the King James Version of the Bible.” However, sometimes a particular version has the kind of twist on a verse that will help make your point better than Elizabethan English. You need to note that on your copyright page, with the appropriate permission notice (easily found online).

In the case of an author who relies on KJV but intersperses a few others, the notice would start: Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the King James Version of the Holy Bible. Then all others must be listed.

Decisions, decisions

For example, if besides the KJV you quote from the KNJV and NIV, it would mean adding:

"Scriptures marked NKJV taken from the New King James Version of the Bible. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc., publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

"Scriptures marked NIV are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide."

A related issue—and one that I’ve encountered on multiple occasions—is an author failing to decide on their dominant translation; that’s the one most often used.

Years ago, it seemed like many pastors and evangelists I worked with grabbed whatever translation was on the shelf in front of them and quoted it. While electronic Bibles have reduced such miscues, I still encounter people who answer my inquiry about their dominant translation: “Whatever you want to use is fine.” At which point I reply, “It’s not what I want that matters.”

Exact quotations

The other fine point to be aware of is the need to quote Scripture exactly as it appears in whatever version(s) you are using. One publisher I work for is so used to authors misquoting Scripture that they insist editors double-check every verse.

Recently, I came across a new wrinkle: an author who likes capitalizing personal pronouns for God. Nothing wrong with that, except he wanted to capitalize Himin a verse when that version didn’t. I told that copyright laws superseded personal preference, at which point he asked me to change to a translation that did capitalize personal pronouns.  

It’s a matter of rightly dividing the (copyrighted) word of truth.

Note: Shortly after I posted this blog, a reader contacted me to point out that the Authorized KJV still retains copyright protection in England. However, the British Crown’s claim is disallowed in the U.S. The rule of thumb: wherever you live, make sure you know your country’s copyright rules regarding Scripture translations.

Topics: Leadership, Ministry, Research, Teaching Resources

Ken Walker

An experienced freelance writer, co-author and book editor, Ken Walker edits blogs for several contributors to Church Central and has coached various bloggers for the site. A member of the Christian PEN (Proofreaders and Editors Network), he has co-authored, edited or contributed to more than 50 books. You can see samples of his work or ask about his services as a writing coach by going to http://www.KenWalkerWriter.com or by e-mailing kenwalker33@gmail.com.


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