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Saturday, August 06, 2005

Bertrand on Literature, Language and the KJV

Yesterday, Bertrand (Mark, not Russell), author and literary critic, blogged on Literature, Language and the KJV. Mark emphasizes the literary beauty of the King James Version and the impact it has had on subsequent English literature.

I agree with Mark, in principle, but I would point out (and I don't think he would disagree) that there was great English literature before the KJV. And the KJV itself took a huge percentage of its wordings from Tyndale's earlier translation of the Bible.

Mark is right that we can find the influence of the KJV literary style upon much of subsequent English literature. But by no means does all good English literature reflect the literary patterns of the KJV (and, again, I don't think Mark is making such an overstated claim).

With Mark, I agree that the KJV has great literary beauty. Recently the translators of the ESV deliberately kept their translation within the Tyndale-KJV literary tradition.

In one of my email exchanges with Lee Ryken, literary stylist for the ESV, I asked him if he believed that there was literary excellence in any contemporary English literature. I was most heartened when he immediately responded in the affirmative, and even stated that God has been involved with helping maintain literary excellence in every time period.

I am glad that the English-speaking world has been blessed by the literary beauty and stylistic impact of the Tyndale-KJV tradition. I am also glad for other great English literature, including some which shows no influence from the Tyndale or KJV translators. I would like to see more discussion on the Internet and elsewhere about literary beauty in English Bibles which are written in contemporary English. Nobel, Pulitzer, and other prizes for good literature continue to be given to authors who write well in English, most of them writing using good quality contemporary English syntax and vocabulary. Such prizes could be given for English Bibles written in contemporary English, also, if their quality of English rose to high enough literary standards.

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At Sat Aug 06, 02:31:00 PM, Blogger J. Mark Bertrand said...

I like your point about the literary value of contemporary translations. It's typically discussed as an either/or proposition, as if we necessarily sacrifice literary excellence by departing from the Tyndale-KJV tradition. I think this is one of those areas where the positive is true -- i.e., there is resonance in the echoes of the tradition -- but the negative is not -- i.e., an absence of "echoes" does not equal an absence of style.

At Sat Aug 06, 03:11:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...



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