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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Brethren and the KJV

First, thank you, Wayne, Peter and Joe for the warm welcome. As you mention I do have other blogs but I find that I enjoy blogging by topic so my thoughts on Bible translation seem a little off topic on my other blogs.

I thought I would explain what I was thinking of when I mentioned the King James Version in my last post. First, I find that the consistent use of 'man' for 'anthropos' in the KJV is much less disconcerting to me than the mixed use found in the ESV.

In 1 Timothy 2:4 ESV 'anthropos' (plural) is translated 'people', and in verse 5, the same word is translated 'men'. In the KJV and NKJV 'anthropos' is translated by 'men' each time. I find that easier in the end.

Another point that was very much present in my mind was the word 'brethren'. I grew up among the Brethren and accepted that term as applying equally to men and women. Early letters of the Brethren to groups of believers were usually worded "greetings to my brothers and sisters in the Lord". The word 'brothers' was reserved for men only. I remember still the announcements for 'brothers' meetings' where women were not allowed.

Therefore, I cannot personally feel included in any greeting to 'brothers'. I can ignore that word, and move by it, but I cannot instinctively include myself. That would require retraining my ear from my own particular religious upbringing.

However, I have a fair tolerance for archaism and would feel included in the term 'brethren'. I came close to putting a subtitle on my Powerscourt blog of "women among the brethren," since the only biography of Lady Powerscourt was in a book called "Chief Women among the Brethren." So it was the KJV use of the word 'brethren' which I was approving.

However, I decided to research the word 'brethren' a little more and found that it has been considered outmoded as a word for 'brothers' for several hundred years. It is only retained in its specialist use for members of a religious group or society. In fact, the first definition I found on the internet says, "lay members of a male religious order." I concede, 'brethren' will not do. 'Adelphos' was an ordinary everyday word, and as such ought to be translated by an ordinary every day word.

Another reason for my appreciation of the New King James Version is that I still have many memorized verses in my head from the KJV and the NKJV is close enough not to interfere with my memory triggers. In linking to Ben Witherington's post, I was attracted by his pro NJKV comment.

Having said that, I also have Today's English Version which I started using when I taught high school, because of its readability. (If I want to look up a particular point in Greek I can when needed.) For a pew Bible our church is stocked with both the RSV and the NRSV. Congregational readings are often in the NRSV.

Having grown up feeling included by the word 'brethren' and then finding that I could let the word 'brothers' pass by without remark, I have recently been asked as a parishioner if I would chose the ESV. I have to admit that I would be uncomfortable inviting a friend to a church where the pew Bible put 'sisters' in a footnote.


At Thu Dec 15, 07:26:00 AM, Blogger Talmida said...

Suzanne, you mentioned "the KJV use of the word 'brethren'" and it really made me think what that means -- the KJV use.

The English of the KJV was not the English heard on the street at the time the translation was made. It was consciously and intentionally unlike the common English of the day. As Adam Nicolson points out in God's Secretaries,

"These scholars were not pulling the language of the scriptures into the English they knew and used at home. ... In was, in other words, more important to make English godly than to make the words of God into the sort of prose that any Englishman would have written..." (p.211)

I wonder sometimes if modern translators who prefer non-inclusive language are attempting to sound "godly", but their ear, their idea of "godly" language has been misformed. Instead of echoing the original Greek or the Hebrew (presumably the languages God chose), they end up echoing an artistic decision made by 50 or so Britons in the 17th century.

Maybe this is a danger of becoming too enamored with one translation? It becomes the voice of God.

At Thu Dec 15, 03:46:00 PM, Blogger Ted Gossard said...

Thanks Suzanne for pointing that out about "brethren". Once upon a time I was familiar with the KJV (I still remember the word "holpen"- didn't even look it up lately, in Luke 1 I think). So I too saw "brethren" as inclusive of both genders.

I've been an NIV user now for nearly 30 years. I did use the NLT for awhile in rebellion against the failure for the NIV to be revised (with reference to gender as well as scholarly changes). Now I'm a user of the TNIV, probably in my third reading of it- along with study, so I'm used to it. Not hard to get used to it anyhow if one is familiar with the NIV.

And I remember when I read the NIV "brothers" in the beginning or end of Paul's letters, I would think that it must refer at least primarily to males, if not exclusively. This seems to militate against what adelphos could mean in places, as well as against the radical inclusion of women in the early church, as disciples (and even leaders).

I am glad for the addition in the NRSV, NLT and TNIV of "brothers and sisters" in the appropriate places.

At Thu Dec 15, 08:30:00 PM, Blogger SingingOwl said...

Good post, Suzanne! And a belated but nonetheless heartfelt welcome to the BBB. :-)

At Thu Dec 15, 11:53:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Hi Talmida,

I guess 'brethren' is a carry over from Wycliffe's translation in 1382. However, the word 'sistern' may well have been in use at that time. So 'brethren' may have refered mainly to men in Wycliffe's day and may have sounded equivalent to 'brothers' today.

The fact that the Brethren in the 1840's used it as a gender neutral term only tells us something about archaic English, not much about Greek, I have to admit.

In some sense I would like to find a Bible translation that could become a standard for memorization.

However, I am distressed by those who need to find a literal and unambiguous statement in every sentence of the Bible.

At Fri Dec 16, 12:04:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Hi Singing Owl,

I have just read your Dec. 14 post on the Gender Wars.

It is great to remember our heritage as Christian women. I was given a biography of Catherine Booth when I was a teenager. I have lost it but would like to buy one again.

Thanks Ted for your additional comments on the TNIV.

At Fri Dec 16, 01:09:00 AM, Blogger crystal said...

I remember the KJV from obligatory bible readings with my presbyterian/masonic great aunt Alberta ... it still gives me the heebie jeebies :-). Now I read the NAB ... in Timothy, it has "everyone/human race".


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