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Thursday, May 03, 2007


I don't know if any of you listen to the Writer's Almanac which Garrison Keillor produces and reads every day. Personally, I set my clock by it – or more accurately, I make sure I'm back from my morning run in time to hear it. But then I'm a great fan of Keillor, Lake Wobegon, and The Prairie Home Companion.

Yesterday Keillor pointed out that May 2nd is an important date in Bible translation history. On May 2, 1611, the first edition of the King James Bible was published. His comments on the translation are worth noting:

“King James I thought that a new translation of the Bible might help hold the country together. There had been several English translations of the Bible already, but King James wanted a Bible that would become the definitive version. Previous versions had been translated from Latin. King James wanted his Bible to be more accurate to the original Hebrew and Greek. King James also decided that his Bible should have as few explanatory notes as possible, so that it would appeal to the widest audience.

James assembled a committee of 54 of the best linguists in the country. They believed that the most important quality of the translation would be that it sound right, since it would be read aloud in churches. So when the committee would gather, each man read his verses aloud, to be judged and revised by the other men.

The translators also deliberately used old-fashioned language. At the time they were working on the Bible, words like "thou" and "sayeth" had already gone out of fashion. Some scholars believe that the translators wanted to give the sense that the language in the Bible came from long ago and far away.” [emphasis mine, RAR]

This understanding is also noted in the excellent history of the KJV by Adam Nicholson God's Secretaries. If you haven't read it, do.

It's worth pondering the fact that the KJV was translated to sound a particular way. Much of the heat around different translations is about how they sound. The choices of the King James translators aren't a matter of revelation. As Nicholson reveals it had as much to do with politics as with inspiration.

Just something to consider.


At Thu May 03, 07:58:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

My understanding is slightly different; the translators were required by royal edict to base their work on the Bishop's Bible. Thus, James gave a list of rules "to be observed in the translation of the Bible":

Rule 1: The ordinary Bible read in the church, commony called the Bishops' Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the truth of the original will permit. . . .

Rule 14: These translations to be used when they agree better with the text than the Bishops' Bible: Tyndales's, Matthew's, Coverdale's, Whitchurch's, Geneva.

Thus, archaic forms were used to achieve continuity in translation.

However, while the forms had a mildly archaic flavor in 1611, they were still in widespread use. Thus, the second person singular forms were used by both Shakespeare and Milton.

At Thu May 03, 08:21:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I read portions of this book by Lancelot Andrewes recently on google books (I don't have time to find it right now - supposed to be doing other things) and he really does sound just like the KJV in his sermons. However, the scripture text he quotes as authoritative is the Latin Vulgate.

I don't remember "thou" offhand, perhaps not required by the context, but certainly the plural subject form he used was "ye".

At Fri May 04, 06:33:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Richard, it is good to have you back blogging.

One correction to what Keillor wrote: "Previous versions had been translated from Latin." is not true - or at least not true of all versions as seems to be implied. The major 16th century English Bible versions, such as Tyndale, Bishops' and Geneva, were translated from the original language.

At Fri May 04, 12:50:00 PM, Blogger Tim said...

at all convinced by his claims about the second person singular, as a quick unscientific check, it seems to be used in Robinson Crusoe MUCH later and not only in religious contexts.

At Fri May 04, 12:56:00 PM, Blogger Tim said...

PS continuing the "research" a little "thou" is frequent and usual in Dekker, Thomas, 1572-1632
Title The Noble Spanish Soldier

I think the author has read that the KJV has an archaising tendency and has assumed that means all those thees and thous

At Mon May 07, 09:54:00 AM, Blogger Rob said...

Let us use literal, gramatical and historical approach to discernment of the word. Not all "bible" translations are good. And let the Holy Ghost fill ya up and stay there. This world is getting ready to get toasted. No, there is no such thing as a rapture before Christ shows up, read Mathew 3, and 13 and 2 thess 1&2 and heb 9!


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