WLBA 8: KJV conclusion
- "the music of the language in the ear, the pleasurable mouth-feel of words spoken aloud."
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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 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.