Better Bibles Blog has moved. Read our last post, below, and then
click here if you are not redirected to our new location within 60 seconds.
Please Bookmark our new location and update blogrolls.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

WLBA 8: KJV conclusion

If you want to read something effusive about the language of the King James Bible then I recommend this short commentary on the Psalms by Kathleen Norris who writes about,

    "the music of the language in the ear, the pleasurable mouth-feel of words spoken aloud."
I am more interested in the King James Bible as a shared document, a consensual text. This Bible was conceived in the reign of Elizabeth I, created during the reign of James I and came into general use during the Restoration period in England, the 166o's . It was not the Bible of Shakespeare or of the founding colonies of the United States.

The value of the King James Bibles as literature is established. But its acceptance may originally have more to do with what it was not - the Bishop's Bible on the one hand, or the Puritan's Geneva Bible on the other.

James commented,

    Could never yet see a Bible well translated in English; but I think that, of all, that of Geneva is the worst. I wish some special pains were taken for an uniform translation, which should be done by the best learned men in both Universities, then reviewed by the Bishops, presented to the Privy Council, lastly ratified by Royal authority, to be read in the whole Church, and none other.
And resolved,

    That a translation be made of the whole Bible, as consonant as can be to the original Hebrew and Greek; and this to be set out and printed, without any marginal notes, and only to be used in all churches of England in time of divine service.
The new Bible was drafted by a committee of 47 men, from both Cambridge and Oxford, half of whom were of Puritan and half of Episcopal persuasion. It was technically a revision of the Bishops' Bible; the translators were handed out copies of the Bishops' Bible to write on and revise. Ecclesiastical words were to be followed and no marginal notes were to be included, except to explain the Hebrew or Greek words.

I find the fourth instruction to be of particular interest,

    When a Word hath divers Significations, that to be kept which hath been most commonly used by the most of the Ancient Fathers, being agreeable to the Propriety of the Place, and the Analogy of the Faith.
The King James Bible is not a shared text by chance. A consensus was carefully created. The translators came from the two opposing camps, the highest scholars were consulted, the interpretive commentary was eliminated, and tradition was to be followed. There was no role for innovation or private interpretation.

The full set of instructions can be read here. Consensus was created through the choice of the translators, the process of translation, the ground rules which were laid down, and especially through the omission of the marginal notes. It was not by chance but by intent that this Bible became the standard translation of the scriptures for 4 centuries.

However, the King James Bible did not enjoy immediate success. It was intended to contribute to internal peace and nationbuilding in its own era. It was planned as an irenicon, a thing of peace. But the second decade of the 17th century led to the third and England was immersed in bloody combat culminating in the execution of Charles I. Cromwell's Bible was naturally the Geneva Bible, the text of the reformers.

It was only during the enforced uniformity of the Restoration under Charles II that the King James Bible became the accepted text. And the rest is history.

I would argue that although the King James Bible did not provide instant peace, it has nonetheless become a shared text because of the qualities invested in it by the strict instructions of the king.

We would do well to consider these qualities. A Bible should bring together scholars of different communities. It should exclude all notes except commentary on the meaning of the Hebrew and Greek words. It should avoid innovation without consensus. If the translators know that there is no consensus on a particular translation then it should not be included. If there is an innovative translation that has the consensus of the scholarly community then this should be included with explanation and support.

Tradition does not prevent new meanings coming into the translation but provides the wording for an obscure original when there is no new consensus. By a carefully agreed upon process, a text could be created which would not surprise and cause undue consternation.

In a new translation today, I would look for agreement with the current lexicons and grammars, support by the most well recognized scholars, consensus across community boundaries and honouring tradition where new theories are not yet generally accepted. Above all interpretive translation would be largely excluded or well footnoted. Sadly, many new translations fall short of this.

Labels: ,


At Thu Jun 14, 05:58:00 AM, Blogger Priscilla's Daughter said...

Just a note: It was Charles I who was executed, not his son Charles II. I believe the latter died peacefully in bed. The reign of Charles II was marked by a great sense of jubilation since most people had grown tired of Cromwell and the Puritans.

This may be too controversial, but I would love to hear your thoughts on the KJV-only debate, Suzanne. To be honest, the whole thing confuses me. Biblical scholarship has advanced so much in the past three hundred years, how in the world can anyone say the KJV is the only translation to use? I certainly love its literary qualities (no other translation does justice to Psalm 23), but when I want to do serious Bible studying, I use a more contemporary translation such as the NAS.

At Thu Jun 14, 07:39:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Ouch - that typo really embarasses me because I know this period of history reasonably well.

Do you want to know why there are KJV - onlyists? I think it has to do with preservationist thinking. They believe that the majority text, the base of the KJV, was providentially preserved by God and is the closest to the original, or is the original.

However, the majority text people and the KJV only people aren't exactly the same. This is a bit of a simplification.

At Thu Jun 14, 07:55:00 AM, Blogger exegete77 said...

Suzanne wrote:

consensus across community boundaries and honouring tradition where new theories are not yet generally accepted.

Thanks for providing food for thought. I think the above quote doesn't go far enough, namely that the continuity of tradition (best sense of the word) is lacking in many if not most translations today. That is, there is a fundamental connection between generations, both living and dead, that is vital not just to translation, but to community health, growth, worship, and identity.

Also, I think one major hurdle to the "consensus" is that most/all translations in the last 50 years have been prepared by para-church or extra-church organizations. This means that the church is ancillory to the translation process, which was the opposite of the KJV translation. So the continuity of tradition is lost. It becomes a "publishers' Bible market" rather than a reflection of the "church" (even diverse elements of it).

At Thu Jun 14, 07:59:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

There are many things that puzzle me. For example, why was the RSV accepted by evangelicals but the NRSV was not?

At Thu Jun 14, 08:15:00 AM, Blogger exegete77 said...

NRSV reaction:

There seem to be at least two factors.

1. This relates to the "agenda" stated in the Preface to the translation to specifically avoid the "danger of linguistic sexism". However one might understand the implications of that phrase (and stance), it became a trigger for wariness.

2. Scholarly concerns. Several times NRSV uses non-attested readings, or accepts a minority text reading without any indication that that is what the translators were doing. Even Fred Danker (of BDAG) was/is frustrated by this approach.

At Thu Jun 14, 10:26:00 AM, Blogger Iyov said...

In fact, at this point, it was more of a tripartite split of the Church: puritans, middle-of-the-roaders, and high churchman.

I am perhaps one of the few people who frequent this blog who has read the Bishops' Bible, and let me say that if the Bishops' Bible is anything to go by, then it is fortunate that of the fifty (not forty seven) members of the Authorized Version translation committee, only five were bishops: Lancelot Andrewes (Chichester), Thomas Revis (London), George Abbot (Coventry and Lichfield), James Montague (Bath and Wells) and William Barlow (Rochester); two translators who later gained sees were John Overall (Coventry 1614) and Miles Smith (Gloucester 1612).

Just look at this statement by Matthew Parker to Elizabeth I. Parker, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was the founder, organizer, and one of the few translators who did any original work for the Bishops' Bible. In his letter to the Queen he informs her of the completion of the Bishops' Bible and asks her permission for its public use. As you will note, this is a single, unwieldly sentence, and somewhere near the end informs Elizabeth of the dangers of an unopposed Geneva Bible let loose in the land:

So that I trust your loving subjects shall see good cause in your majesty's days to thank God, and to rejoice, to see this treasure of His holy word so set out, as may be proved (so farforth as mortal man's knowledge can attain to, or as farforth as God hath hitherto revealed) to be faithfully handled in the vulgar tongue, beseeching your highness, that it may have your gracious favour, licence, and protection, to be communicated abroad, as well for that in many churches they want their books, and long time have looked for this: as for that in certain places be publicly used some translations which have not been laboured in your realm, having inspersed diverse prejudicial notes, which might have been also well spared.

One is immediately reminded of Tyndale's remark:

When a thing speedeth not well, we borrow speech and say, The Bishop hath blessed it; because that nothing speedeth well that they meddle withal. If the porridge be burned too, or the meat over-roasted, we say, The bishop hath put his foot in the pot, or, The bishop played the cook.

On the other hand, it was the Bishop of London who sardonically observed at the proposal of the Authorized Version (and the Hampton Court conference which chartered the translation was overseen by the Jacobean monarch, not the Elizabethan):

If every man's humour should be followed, there would be no end of translating.


[Tyndale's quote is from his Obedience of the Christian Man (Antwerp 1528), fol. cxxxiii; the other quotes are from Pollard, Records of the English Bible (Oxford 1911), pp. 294-5 and 46, respectively.]

At Thu Jun 14, 12:17:00 PM, Blogger Iyov said...

the RSV accepted by evangelicals but the NRSV was not

I do not agree with either part of this statement. The RSV received a harsh response from Fundamentalists -- and directly lead to two celebrated Evangelical "responses": the NASB and the NIV. (Grudem's fondness for the RSV, for example, reflects more on his education at secular institutions such as Harvard and Cambridge, where the RSV was widely accepted.)

Similarly, at the time of its release, the NRSV received support from a wide number of Evangelicals, as Pastor Rick Mansfield has written in his blog. Indeed, I own a NRSV-based parallel Bible from the Evangelical publisher Zondervan (which still publishes the NRSV today) as well as a NRSV-concordance from the Evangelical publisher Zondervan. Pastor Mansfield has, in fact, recently recommended a NRSV-based Evangelical commentary of the 12 Minor Prophets.

Nor do I believe the RSV has passed from favor. In fact, the RSV seems as popular as ever to me. It is perhaps the most popular translation in conservative Catholic circles (and is the basis for the both Navarre commentary in English and Scott Hahn's commentary); it is widely used among conservative Orthodox scholars; it is still the translation of choice for many scholarly books (such as the Scriptural quotes in the new Josephus series from Brill); and it is the basis of the wildly popular ESV. Major new editions of the RSV have recently appeared from Oxford, Ignatius, Sceptre, and it continues to be available from other publishers such as Cambridge.

The renaissance of the NRSV is no less striking: witness the recent appearance of no fewer than two major new (or new edition) study Bibles in the last few months (the 2nd edition of the HarperCollins Study Bible; the 3rd augmented edition of the New Oxford Annotated Bible); if we extend our reach out four years, we can works such as the New Interpreter's Study Bible, Early Christian Reader, and the latest edition of The New Testament and Other Early Christian Writings: A Reader. Harper Bibles has launched a major new series of the NRSV volumes, and the after the KJV, the NRSV is perhaps the translation published by the largest list of different publishers today.

Perhaps the only other major contemporary translation which can claim significant influence is the NIV; but there is a major contrast here: the NIV's influence has been limited to Protestants (and, within that group, largely to Evangelicals) while the RSV and NRSV continue to be cited not only by Evangelical studies but also in Jewish, Catholic, and Orthodox studies.

While recent translations such as the ESV and the TNIV (which are, in truth, quite minor revisions of the RSV and NIV respecitively) may receive more attention in this blog and in certain Evangelical circles, I believe that there can be little argument that the RSV and the NRSV remain far more influential among scholars, ecclesiastics, and intellectuals interested in the English Bible. As the populist Bible market continues to fragment (for example, the slew of new Evangelical translations), the relative influence of scholarly-consensus Bibles such as the RSV and NRSV will grow more striking.

At Thu Jun 14, 02:55:00 PM, Blogger Bill said...

You said the KJV was not Shakespeare's Bible. A long time ago, someone showed me an interesting phenomenon that pointed to Shakespeare as a translator of Psalm 46 in the KJV. It was supposedly during his 46th year that he translated the 46th psalm. The 46th word from the beginning is "shake." The 46th word from the end (omitting "selah") is "spear."

The Wikipedia article on him states "William Shakespeare (baptised 26 April 1564 – died 23 April 1616)," which would make him 46 in 1600.

What do you think?


At Thu Jun 14, 02:57:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I studied in Cambridge (UK) at the same time as Grudem, the mid-1970s. I can't speak for what Bible version was used in the university theology department at the time, as I was studying physics. But I can tell you which version was in almost universal use by evangelicals in Cambridge at the time, in Christian Unions and local churches: RSV. So Grudem would have come across RSV in church as well as in the lecture hall.

But RSV certainly has to a large degree passed out of use in evangelical circles. Not that they have real objections to it. Rather, it has simply been replaced by more recent versions, most commonly NIV and, more recently, NLT.

ESV is wildly popular only in a rather restricted circle here in the UK. But it is not in wide use or strongly promoted in bookshops. The great majority of Christians have probably not even heard of it.

But I would agree that NRSV is very likely the Bible of choice in secular academic circles these days.

At Thu Jun 14, 03:59:00 PM, Blogger Iyov said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At Thu Jun 14, 04:43:00 PM, Blogger BillC said...

You are correct about the Geneva Bible containing the words "shake" and "speare." But they are not the 46th words from front and back.

According to Suzanne's list of rules, the translators were not to deviate from the Geneva without warrant, so the words should remain in the translation.

The interesting feature is that it is Psalm 46, and the two words in question have been moved to be the 46th words from front and end.

That, and the coincidence with its being Shakespeare's 46th year are what makes the probability of the occurrence by chance so astronomically small.


At Thu Jun 14, 06:28:00 PM, Blogger Iyov said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At Thu Jun 14, 07:01:00 PM, Blogger Iyov said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At Fri Jun 15, 03:42:00 PM, Blogger Iyov said...

I have consolidated my Psalm 46 and Shakespeare comments in a single blog post. Please look there for my comments.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home