Editorial: Is the King James Version of the Bible Still Fit For Purpose on Jeopardy?

The King James Version of the Bible has been Jeopardy!‘s default translation of the Bible when used as sourcing for clues for as long as I can remember, likely dating back to the start of the show in 1984. However, judging by the outcry amongst Biblical scholars this week, this may no longer be a tenable position for the show to take, especially in cases where the KJV flies in the face of established Biblical scholarship.

This came to a head earlier this week in Final Jeopardy! of Game 3 of the Tournament of Champions final. Wednesday’s Final Jeopardy! clue read as follows: “Paul’s letter to them is the New Testament epistle with the most Old Testament quotations”, with the show’s correct response being “What is Hebrews“?

It is clear that per the KJV, Jeopardy! felt that Wednesday’s Final Jeopardy! was without issue and airtight enough to use in a Tournament of Champions final. After all, the KJV does title the book “The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews”. It is also clear—due to the fact that it made it through fact-checking—Hebrews contains more Old Testament quotations than any other New Testament epistle, also per the KJV.

Unfortunately, with the number of members of the clergy who have felt it necessary to point out since Wednesday that the show erred terribly with that clue, it is abundantly clear that current Biblical scholarship very much disagrees with the KJV—both on authorship, where most scholars today believe that Paul did not write Hebrews, as well as the extent of which various New Testament books quote the Old Testament—that it has reached a point where the continued usage of the KJV as a source will ultimately do harm to the show’s reputation as a whole.

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Am I suggesting that the show stop asking about the Bible? No—the stories contained in the Bible are the basis for such a significant amount of Western culture that it would be impossible for the Bible not to be a subject of categories and clues on the show. However, the current sourcing choice is putting the show under fire from a significant number of subject matter experts here. Do I know enough about the Bible to suggest that any specific translation is better at this point? No—I’m an agnostic layman. But it has certainly become readily apparent to me that the KJV is no longer fit for purpose in a show of Jeopardy!‘s caliber. Biblical scholarship has changed significantly since the show decided 38 years ago to rely upon the KJV as its sole Biblical source, and the show needs to reflect these changes, even if it means walking back from the “English major” vibe the show has always had.

To give a sports analogy, as current Executive Producer Michael Davies wants the show to be seen as more of a sport, this is the sporting equivalent of pointing to an archaic rule as justification for an unpopular decision by the officials—while technically correct, it leads to counter-intuitive rulings that ultimately harms the show’s reputation. Jeopardy! has made several recent changes to its procedures in recent years to stay relevant; in this case, it should consult with Biblical experts and select a new definitive translation for its sourcing going forward.


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9 Comments on "Editorial: Is the King James Version of the Bible Still Fit For Purpose on Jeopardy?"

  1. “It is also clear—due to the fact that it made it through fact-checking—Hebrews contains more Old Testament quotations than any other New Testament epistle, also per the KJV.”

    I don’t think the mere fact that they ran this question is evidence that this statement is correct. It is something that involves significant judgment from a reader to decide how close a passage has to be to determine if it is quoting the old testament. As such,this shouldn’t be asked as a trivia question at all: reasonable sources differ on all the “facts” in the question.

    I think the question is completely inappropriate as trivia, especially when it could determine hundreds of thousands of dollars among the contestants.

    • I agree and disagree. I still believe that if the show did not believe that the clue was correct as per their chosen source, the clue would not have run.

      However: the fact that nearly every other source disagrees with their chosen source means that I think that the source is bad and that the source is no longer fit for purpose.

  2. Most scholars nowadays prefer the New Revised Standard Version. That being said,I think it would still make sense to use the KJB for certain clues, since that translation has been pretty influential on the English lamguage.

    • A category like Thursday’s, where you’re completing quotes from the KJV, I don’t have as much of an issue with—because everyone involved, including those at home, is on the same page as to what’s going on.

      • Agreed again.
        The ground rules have to be clear for everyone to understand. Whether or not they DO understand and remember is a different matter . . . 🙄

  3. I think going forward the clue should make clear what translation they use, whether it’s KJV, NRSV, NIV, or whatever.

  4. Bill Goldsbury | November 23, 2022 at 2:10 pm | Reply

    And then there’s this Jeopardy clue from a June 2021 show: “Not to be confused with Barabbas, this companion of Paul has sometimes been credited with writing the epistle to the Hebrews” The answer was Barnabas. If, as the producers claim by the KJV, Paul is the undisputed writer of the Letter to the Hebrews, then why was this clue even considered? Jeopardy was aware of a controversy then, but not now? So much for consistency!

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