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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

WLBA 7: KJV Cont

I am taking my sweet time getting down to the point and writing a serious post about the KJV. In the meantime, another story from the woman's world of Suzanne. I work in a secular environment where it is fine to be Buddhist, atheist, etc. etc, also married, single, gay or transgendered. We even have stay at home mothers who come back once in a while to visit with former colleagues over lunch. There are incidently a few men, young and old.

At the end of a meeting this morning I was listening in on this conversation, between a man, first speaker, and a woman, second speaker.

"She's taking a week off to go east with her husband who has some job interviews."

"So we get a new consultant next year?"

"Looks like it."

"Is she looking for a job there too?"

"No, I don't think so. I truly doubt it."

"She isn't?"

"Um, she is, you know, um - 'great with child.'"

"Oh yeah, right - she's expecting - of course, now she can take some time off."

If you are a man, and you are at loss for words in a mixed environment, you can't go too far wrong if you quote the King James Bible. For some reason, this man stumbled over, "she's expecting,"but he had a fallback - from the KJV. In our secular workplace it passes without remark. It is a shared text.


In the interests of complete disclosure. I will admit that the man in this conversation is an older man and a Christian. He attends Gordon Fee's church. However, my point is this. He assumes that the staff, composed of Jewish, Catholic, atheist, etc. etc. will recognize his quote because they are all anglophone. Not that the others would quote the KJV themselves, or any biblical text. But they accept it.

However, I used to consider the KJV to be the text of a fundamentalist minority, rather than a shared text of the anglophone community.

Two other incidents this year have reinforced this. Our Jewish librarian spoke in a positive fashion of the KJV recently. On another occasion I observed a large banner in the headquarters of the municipal police, "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God."

Our city is the usual multicultural mix and considered a rather liberal environment as well. However, I am convinced that the KJV is the only Bible version which can pass without remark.

I am trying in ethnographers fashion, to recount incidents where the Bible is mentioned in a secular environment, without my suggesting it. This is what I observe. It is an alternative to putting out a poll or survey.



At Wed Jun 13, 05:14:00 AM, Blogger Ron said...

I love this "King James" series you are doing. For those of us that were brought up on the King James it is amazing how much KJ English we use in our conversation. 'Great with child', probably one of the more common ones.

I used to hear some of my brethren say to a group of men standing in the parking lot, "Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven?"

FYI I am not from the KJ Only camp. I am 54 years old and started on the King James in Baptist Sunday School around 1960. It was not until the late 80's that I even started looking at the Amplified Bible occasionally. Just in the last two years have I switched to the NASB update. Yeah, yeah, I know I'm way behind the curve, but I just didn't have a problem with the KJV. I had no 'fear' of other translations, like some do, I just never really considered them.

I now have an ESV, and am reading some from the HCSB as well. I love them all. Thanks for such blogs as this, the information is super for those of us who are not versed in the original languages.

At Wed Jun 13, 05:15:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

In our secular workplace it passes without remark.

Really? It sounds to me that the reply "Oh yeah, right - she's expecting ..." meant that the respondent had to stop and think about it and then reword it for herself in her own terms before continuing.

I honestly don't think we would ever hear such wording used here in England, except from someone in my parents' now mostly deceased generation who retained some Victorian sensibilities about such matters. Or I suppose someone might use it as a joke or a word play. But there is now no sector of society, outside a few very closed religious communities, in which a shared understanding of KJV can be assumed. For KJV has been used in only a minority of churches for something like 40 years, since NEB and RSV became popular. Thus we are talking about probably less than 1% of the population who have any real familiarity with KJV.

At Wed Jun 13, 10:15:00 AM, Blogger ElShaddai Edwards said...

For KJV has been used in only a minority of churches for something like 40 years, since NEB and RSV became popular.


Are the NEB/REB and RSV/NRSV still the popular translations in England? I'm curious if there are any rumblings of a new REB (NREB?) or if that whole effort is fading into oblivion. I'd also heard that there might be a third edition of the Jerusalem Bible coming, but didn't have a timeframe.


At Wed Jun 13, 03:23:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

No, Elshaddai, NEB and RSV are no longer popular. I think some more liberal churches use REB. Probably most who used RSV have moved on to NIV (some now to TNIV) or to NRSV. There are also churches using TEV/GNT, ESV, and NKJV, perhaps also NLT and NASB. Only a rather small number of diehards still use KJV. At least that is the impression I get from a not very broad perspective. This survey excludes Catholics as I don't know what they use.

At Wed Jun 13, 03:30:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Suzanne, I have to agree with you that when the Bible is quoted in a completely secular context, even here in the UK, it does still tend to be KJV which is quoted. Probably KJV is used more by non-believers than by Christians!

So my hunch that the man in your conversation was older was correct. His generation didn't talk directly about pregnancy, especially with younger women, so he went for what was to him a euphemism. His embarrassment is clearly signalled by the "you know, um". In fact that embarrassment was probably already out of date for much of his generation, but he may have retained it because of his evangelical Christianity, although I would be surprised if Gordon Fee promoted this attitude.

At Wed Jun 13, 04:10:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


What I mean is that I doubt that this man uses the KJV in a church setting, but in a secular setting he quotes it - not much point quoting the TNIV for a euphemism for this situation.

I am not recommending that we as Christians should use the KJV predominantly, but I am trying to show that it has a unique role as a shared text.

I have also mentioned that the Good News Bible is one I use frequently and I find that it is well known also. To me these two Bibles are equally important. It is the Good News Bible that sat on my desk when I taught high school.

At Thu Jun 14, 06:05:00 AM, Blogger Priscilla's Daughter said...

Peter, I also live in England, so unfortunately I echo your sentiments. If I used the phrase "great with child" to anyone under 50, they would probably just give me a blank look. In my own personal experience, the churches I have attended were filled with mainly elderly people, so soon there may be nobody in Britain who is familiar with KJV English.

At Thu Jun 14, 10:23:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Well, Priscilla's Daughter, there are plenty of churches in England, such as mine, which are filled mostly with people who are not elderly. I say this to correct a possible misunderstanding of what you wrote. But these churches filled with young and middle aged people do not use KJV. The relatively few churches which use KJV are mostly not filled with anyone, and the few people who do attend are definitely on the elderly side. I don't say that to condemn these churches, but just to underline the small number and age group of those who are familiar with KJV.

At Thu Jun 14, 01:11:00 PM, Blogger Iyov said...

soon there may be nobody in Britain who is familiar with KJV English.

I would be most surprised if the island contained no one who was familiar with the English of Shakespeare, Milton, Marlowe, Donne, Jonson, Bacon, Burton, Browne, Hobbes, Webster, Tourneur, Middleton, Ford, Spenser, Raleigh, Lyly, Sidney, Fulke, Drayton, Campion, Nashe, Barnfield, Herbert, Vaughn, Herrick, Carew, and the 1628 and 1662 Books of Common Prayer.

Indeed, the fact that Cambridge and Penguin (at rather large expense) have recently published a new critical version of the KJV suggests publishers have not yet received the grim news of the loss of literacy among the subjects of the Queen.

But it has been four years since I last visited London or Cambridge or Edinburgh, so perhaps the decline of Albion is more pronounced than I realize -- and the New World is the only hope of retaining cultural literacy.

At Thu Jun 14, 03:05:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Iyov, I can assure you that in the academic ivory towers of Albion there will always be scholars who are familiar with the English of the great 16th-17th century authors you name. So perhaps Priscilla's Daughter was using a little hyperbole. But very soon the only people who will be familiar with specific KJV idioms like "great with child" (well, I don't know if this idiom is found in the other authors you list, maybe you can let us know) will be scholars specialising in KJV. As for the ordinary man or woman in the street, they are already not familiar with this expression.

Meanwhile I have to get to number 30 on a Google search to find a use of "great with child" which is not either the title of a book or a biblical quote. So this can hardly be presented as an expression in common use in any variety of English.

At Thu Jun 14, 03:30:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I have been writing about the use of the KJV as a shared text, not only for evangelicals but many others.

My daughter did a little field work for me yesterday, unbidden. She mentioned the general topic of my blog - that is Bible translation - to a friend, without refering to the KJV. This friend, about 50 and not a church attender, immediately took it on herself to instruct my daughter in how the translation should be left untouched as a literary text, without romoving the "thees" and "thous." She felt that this would show more respect for the Bible as a text.

My daughter was quite intrigued when I told her some saw me as a defender of the KJV, since I haven't ever bought her one, nor does she own one. Hmm. Food for thought. Maybe I'll get her one.

We usually study Shakespeare by attending as many performances as we can together - and discussing the costumes and fabrics in great detail. ;-)

I am enjoying reading all the comments.

At Thu Jun 14, 04:39:00 PM, Blogger Iyov said...

I walked into an office this afternoon, and asked each of the nine women there (there are only women working in this office) if they knew what "great with child" meant. The women work in clerical positions; I believe most of them attended college, but none have higher degrees. Four of them speak English as a second language; they are immigrants who grew up speaking Korean, Tagalog, or Spanish.

Every single one was able to understand "great with child" with no prompting at all. They also understood "tender mercies."

I am not certain if they have all read the KJV (I rather doubt it) but the language of the KJV has permeated the culture -- at least in this office.

At Fri Jun 15, 04:59:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Iyov, all I can say is that it would have been a different story here in England. Well, the ladies might have been able to guess the meaning of the expression, but they would not have been familiar with it. You may regret this, I don't.


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