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Sunday, March 30, 2008

The King James Bible - meet and fit

I haven't commented much on some of the issues swirling around. Mostly I just love the diversity of voices, the various opinions, yeah to all of them - well, almost all. So what about the King James Bible and all that?

First, I would not recommend the KJV as a pew Bible. I believe that it is not appropriate to expect a congregation with a mix of ages, education levels and English language competency to understand the King James Bible. And I am not particularly interested in attending a church that does not have such a mix.

I actively stand against those who teach the doctrinal position that the King James Bible is the only trustworthy English Bible translation, since this is based on a false premise. The premise is that,
    Because the Gospel is true and necessary for the salvation of souls, the true Bible text has been preserved down through the ages by God's special providence and is found today in the King James Version.
This is the argument presented by E. F.Hills and many others. This argument tends to include a belief in the providential preservation of the majority text base. For some, it even extends to believing that the primacy of the English language as a global language falls within God's providential will.
    From the 17th century and into the 20th century the AV preserved the Word of God not only for the English speaking peoples but for all those whom they evangelised. The AV became the Bible of those nations brought to Christ through the great Christian Missionary crusade of almost four centuries. Ian Paisley
The King James Bible is promoted as the Bible of nations evangelized by English speaking people. I believe that concerns expressed about the promotion of the King James Bible as a pew Bible are valid.

However, in the last couple of years I have interacted more with those outside of my own evangelical circle rather than those within. I have found that the King James Bible is used in my seminary course, along with the NRSV, as the one translation most likely to represent the grammar of the Greek and Hebrew reliably. We always refer to the KJV.

I have also found that among my friends and colleagues in my secular workplace, the King James Bible has unique status as a literary Bible, as a Bible which the Jewish community has found acceptable, and one which educated women have a positive response to.

Therefore, at this moment - one never knows about tomorrow, I hold the King James Bible to be the premiere Bible for academic and literary reference. It is also by its style of language and due to the history of its use, acceptable to the Jewish community, women and a wide variety of denominations. On a community level, it is a Bible of inclusion.

However, I also associate on a daily basis with those who will never understand the King James Bible. On an individual level it is not a Bible of inclusion.

For a pew Bible, I would recommend the NRSV. It is relatively literal, it stands within the Tyndale tradition and it is inclusive of women and presents relatively less doctrinal bias than other Bibles. The TNIV is also inclusive of women and retains the style and language of the NIV.
I don't own a CEV, but I have so far found it to be an attractive alternative for those of an average reading level, even though it makes little attempt at representing any features of Hebrew poetry in English.

My concerns are to have a Bible that is as accurate to the intended meaning as possible, with as little doctrinal bias in either text or footnotes, that represents the literary features of the original and is true to the English language.

Quite frankly, I think that these are common goals of our bibiosphere and I find the ongoing argument and counter argument delightful.

-------------------

Note in response to a private email: I know that some will ask if the NIV, NASB and HSCB are not also accurate and literal. However, I am convinced that when "men" and "brethren" were used in the KJV these words were inclusive of women. The underlying Greek and Hebrew was inclusive of women. I am not convinced that this is the case for Bibles translated in the latter half of the last century. I do not see the point of using a pew Bible which makes the status of half of the congregation unclear.

24 Comments:

At Mon Mar 31, 12:39:00 PM, Blogger TedE said...

Great post, Suzanne. I keep hearing the KJV went out with the covered wagon, but almost everytime the arts and media (and just about anyone else left who can) quote Scripture, it is KJV. So do we use one that people recognize as "the Bible" or use one that people understand? Your answer addresses both. Thanks.

 
At Mon Mar 31, 01:13:00 PM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

Nice post.

Last night I was ready to object that man (but not brethren) was still understood inclusively in early 17th century English. But then I thought I'd better check, and I started to look around in Shakespeare, and, lo and behold, I could not find any unambiguous cases of inclusive man.

The compounding forms -man and man-, however, were inclusive up through the 1960's when feminists unilaterally declared phonetic sequences like [mæn] and [sʌn] to be sexist and the whole language lurched to the left. (I remember. I was an adult speaker at the time and I had very clear intuitions. Mankind was inclusive and it was not odd in anyway to refer to a female letter-carrier as a mailman.)

 
At Mon Mar 31, 02:54:00 PM, Blogger solarblogger said...

These longer descriptions of what a given Bible is good for and when are more helpful than an overall thumbs up or thumbs down. I think I generally agree with what you posted. (I would probably take the NRSV over the TNIV for a pew Bible, though, from what little I know.)

I am finding that many translations can be defended as being strong in one area or another. But I wonder whether I would not sometimes rather have an inferior translation used by someone who understood where its limitations lay than a superior translation used as the be-all-end-all.

In some cases the question for me is not whether a certain way of translating is "better" in some universal abstract way, but whether it is "better" given the particular reader and what his or her expectations are.

Ways of translating that bother me in the NIV I can handle being taken even further in The Message, as I expect (or vainly hope?) that a reader will use the Message in a different manner.

 
At Mon Mar 31, 04:20:00 PM, Blogger Tim said...

Hey folks, this is slightly off the topic...but maybe not. What is your opinion of the Third Millennium Bible. http://www.tmbible.com/

I was recently looking for a KJV which included the Deuterocanonicals/Apocrypha and found this sight. Any thoughts? I am not familiar with those who have produced this "update".

 
At Tue Apr 01, 10:24:00 AM, Blogger Jim Swindle said...

Tim, a quick look at the TMB site causes me to have the following reservations.
1. Since it's not the King James, it would not necessarily be as broadly accepted/trusted, even if it succeeds in not changing the KJV meanings.
2. It retains much of the archaic language of the KJV. I find that most people I talk to can't use thee/thou/thy correctly, nor distinguish between maketh and makest. Yet such forms are retained in the TMB.
3. Its preface claims that "Holy Spirit" (used in most Bibles) is less specific than "Holy Ghost." I find that odd. In modern English, would we really consider the third person of the Trinity to be the Ghost who's holy, instead of the Spirit who's holy?
4. It's desire to retain "Biblical English" has advantages, as listed in its preface, but also the disadvantage of making the text sound less natural, less immediate to many readers.
5. It intentionally ignores all biblical scholarship since 1611. I suspect that some modern translations are overly trusting of modern scholarship, but surely the many manuscripts discovered in the past 400 years have added at least a little to our understanding.

Having said all of that, the TMB is probably a very useful translation for those who like it. Its wordings retain much of the grace and rhythm of the old KJV.

 
At Tue Apr 01, 01:39:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Jim wrote about the Third Millennium Bible:

It intentionally ignores all biblical scholarship since 1611. I suspect that some modern translations are overly trusting of modern scholarship, but surely the many manuscripts discovered in the past 400 years have added at least a little to our understanding.

But this is equally true of KJV when promoted today as "the premiere Bible for academic and literary reference ... a Bible that is as accurate to the intended meaning as possible". Well "intentionally" when this quote is applied to KJV refers to the intention of the users today, not of the translators in 1611. But the same arguments which rightly make us reject TMB should equally make us reject KJV, as not particularly accurate to the intended meaning (indeed even to the intended base text) as understood by today's scholars.

So, sorry, KJV is not "meet and fit". Well of course it is not because this sentence is ungrammatical, "meet" is not an adjective and "fit" can be used as an adjective of an inanimate object only when followed by "for ...". What I mean is, KJV is not suitable or appropriate for academic or church use today. As for literary use, the literati can do what they want with it as long as they don't expect to use it to find out about God and his ways.

 
At Tue Apr 01, 01:54:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

What I mean is, KJV is not suitable or appropriate for academic or church use today.

Oooh, Peter, I am heading to my Psalms class soon. Shall I share this information with the prof?

I admit that our school uses the Picture Bible

Though The Picture Bible makes a good first Bible for young readers, this classic perennial best-seller is loved by people of all ages. The full-text version contains 233 Bible stories in full-color comic format.

when teaching Bible stories, but at the university level, surely, one can read at a higher level? The unchurched public also has not caught on to any other Bible as a popular version that I can see.

 
At Tue Apr 01, 04:38:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Suzanne, I hope you did share what I said with the prof. I would be interested to know what he or she said. But I would not continue to take a class based on KJV unless there was some very good reason for that. Not because of the reading level but because it is obsolete scholarship, and, especially in the NT, a bad text.

 
At Tue Apr 01, 05:22:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Peter,

This is what I wrote a few days ago. I thought you had seen it.

But my favourite translation at the moment is not even in English. I have been studying the Psalms lately, three hours on Wed. night with the Hebrew tutorial some other time during the week. But Wed. night is basically in English with passing references to Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French, German and Cree.

...

The basic study takes place by marking up the NRSV version of the text, with several parallel versions available for reference. There is always the KJV and sometimes the other 4 or 5 will be translations produced between 1520 and 1545 or some other specific era.

 
At Tue Apr 01, 11:17:00 PM, Blogger solarblogger said...

Suzanne's wording "academic and literary reference" should be taken into account. She had already suggested the KJV was not appropriate for use as a pew Bible. But I know what it is to keep certain translations for the sake of reference. (The King James italics are sometimes time-savers for me. I know that I should not expect to find certain words in the Greek when I see them.) And this one deserves some degree of familiarity, too.

As to literary reference, this would have to do with the fact that so much of our literature is rooted in the KJV. I don't think it is just the literati who find that interesting. Without that, we will easily lose our sense of when the Bible was used in past discussions. That is very unhelpful.

Some of God's ways can be found through tracing the language of the King James version. How did it go to work on the culture? How was it hijacked? We cannot assume that creating communities of thought over time was no part of God's intention. Part of the benefit of public reading in church, even in an age when we have private access to the Scriptures, is knowing that my neighbor has heard the same words. Being familiar with older translations with such a wide audience allow us to know what was heard in the past.

To speak of it as if it would be best forgotten altogether is a bad idea.

 
At Wed Apr 02, 03:32:00 AM, Blogger Jim Swindle said...

Solarblogger, I'd heartily agree with your conclusion, "To speak of it [the KJV] as if it would be best forgotten altogether is a bad idea."

You list several valid reasons for studying the KJV. In terms of this blog's purpose, you may have hit on one of the most significant: we can study the KJV to ask what enabled it to be so successful. There was surely divine providence. In addition, the translators must have done some things right. How can translators today emulate what those men did right? (I said "men," because, if I remember right, all of the KJV translators were male. I'm not saying women can't be wonderful translators. Suzanne, I think you'll be a valuable member of the CIV translation team. I pray that the Lord uses all of you on that team, beyond what we imagine.)

 
At Wed Apr 02, 12:49:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I am happy to agree that there is a place for using KJV as part of a study of how the Bible has been interpreted and used since 1611, or of its contribution to literature and to popular culture. If that is what the course is about, fine. Also if KJV is simply made available as a resource for those who prefer to use it. My objection is to using it in any way in exegesis, as an aid to finding out what the text really means.

Solarblogger, those italics may look useful, but they can also be very misleading, because they are inconsistently used and because they cover up a multitude of textual issues.

 
At Wed Apr 02, 10:00:00 PM, Blogger solarblogger said...

Solarblogger, those italics may look useful, but they can also be very misleading, because they are inconsistently used and because they cover up a multitude of textual issues.

You've mentioned before that they are not used everywhere that words have been added. And I'm not usually using them alone in making decisions. But they do give me a rough estimate of what to look for.
(I'm often using them to get a sense of what is likely original in my NASB, which is what I mostly use.)

Do you have some good examples of other kinds of textual issues the italics cover? Or do you know of a good list someone has compiled?

 
At Thu Apr 03, 04:35:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

TC, for a specific example, see Ephesians 5:22. KJV has not italicised the word "submit" here, although it is almost certainly not what the author originally wrote. But it was in the Greek text used by the KJV translators, hence no italics. Why was it added to the Greek text? Very probably because some early copyist realised exactly what the KJV translators realised, that the text is smoother and clearer with this word made explicit. But this textual issue is missed because of the KJV's choice of textual base.

 
At Thu Apr 03, 10:50:00 AM, Blogger John Hobbins said...

I think KJV also has a place in worship. If we read Psalm 23 responsively, for example, it makes sense to read it in the KJV. It is also important to explain KJV, and go behind KJV. An excellent reader can make KJV intelligible, with the right intonation and pausing.

With a text like the Lord's Prayer, it's amazing how many people know it by heart in KJV language, but don't know what they're saying when they say, "Hallowed be thy name."

But still, I want people to know what it means to hallow something. I want people to know what Halloween means, too. So it's a learning process.

I think it might be a myth that KJV language was particularly inclusive (see Rich Rhodes' comment). At least it is not a black and white issue. On the other hand, we cut old texts more slack than recent texts. This is a good thing.

It always bothers me that people get upset because Moses, Jesus, and Paul were not proto-feminists, did not push for the abolition of slavery, and were not pacifists. It's true that the traditions which go back to them contain seeds which, in another time and place, led to a positive embrace of feminism by believers, encouraged the same and other believers to fight for the abolition of slavery, and helped still other believers to conceive of war as a last rather than a first resort, or to reject war entirely. But Moses, Jesus, and Paul lived within the contradictions of their age, as we live within the contradictions of ours.

Feminism, the end of slavery, and the refusal to go to war even when it would be justified - all of these things have not solved a thing. [Hyperbole alert] They have created new problems.

 
At Thu Apr 03, 02:54:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

But Moses, Jesus, and Paul lived within the contradictions of their age, as we live within the contradictions of ours.

Feminism, the end of slavery, and the refusal to go to war even when it would be justified - all of these things have not solved a thing. [Hyperbole alert]


John,
Since you mention seed, there's room here to acknowledge Jesus's methods (not necessarily Paul's or Moses's or, to stay some on topic here, the KJV translators' methods). Yes, "hyperbole" now that you mention it; and "parable"; and "miracle"; all of which defy enslaving and masculinist logic and the notion of immutable nature. But the other clever thing about our humble Jesus, is he came down off his high horse and became a slave, and submitted to the worst of men and nature. And left his words to be translated.

 
At Thu Apr 03, 03:29:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

all of these things have not solved a thing.

What an Eyeore you are! They have surely solved some things but yes, they have created new problems.

I do not want to see people saying that if feminism and the end of slavery and pacificism haven't solved anything, we could just as well dispose of these things. Who wants to lose their civli rights? Who does not think that civil rights has contributed to their well being?

If you want to use hyperbole, then you must say,

"All of these things have not solved much."

What you did say is simply innacurate. Maybe you have a toothache.

 
At Thu Apr 03, 03:36:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

But the other clever thing about our humble Jesus, is he came down off his high horse and became a slave ...

Or, he came down off his high horse to ride a donkey

:-)

 
At Thu Apr 03, 05:13:00 PM, Blogger John Hobbins said...

Eeyore is my favorite, I have to admit.

This is the kind of thing I have in mind. I pastor in a church (United Methodist) which celebrates feminism. I'm delighted that my current bishop, when we gather at annual conference, invites people to come forward and give their life to Jesus, or commit themselves to full-time Christian ministry. No bishop before her did altar-calls. Passe', you know. What fundies do. But this sister does not let that stop her. So am I happy to have an African-American from Detroit as my bishop. Very happy. She speaks to the whole person when she preaches.

On the other hand, feminism is running the women of my church ragged. Now that they are allowed to do everything, the men, who are just overgrown boys anyway, step back and let them do it. So now women get to do, literally, everything. They run the church, they run their households, they have demanding careers, they raise the kids, they care-give for sick or dying parents. They clean the bathrooms, they do the laundry, and they do the drive-through at MacDonalds (who has time to cook anymore?) Am I exaggerating? I don't think so.

The new set-up is unhealthy. The old division of labor was artificial, prejudicial, you name it. Fine. Who wants to go back to it, anyway? But the new set-up is not working. The men don't know who they are anymore (they probably never did). The women are running themselves ragged.

The logic of my argument would not change if I used the old South Africa versus the new South Africa as examples, or Rhodesia versus Zimbabwe.

But yes, everyone has a right to be captain of their own destiny. That is the unassailable truth of our age. Everyone, in other words, has the right to make the rope on which they will hang themselves.

And isn't that what my ancestors wanted, when they fought, 26 of them, in the Revolutionary War? The right, that is, to make their own problems? Isn't that what my ancestors wanted when they let their home (now a national monument) become a waystation in the Underground Railroad? That the freed slaves receive that same right? Isn't that why the women in my family tree fought for the right to vote, so that they could fix problems their way, like banning alcohol completely in an effort to combat alcoholism?

Yes, I think so. I stand by their choices. I especially like the guts of those who obviously went too far. But I still think we have just exchanged one set of problems for another.

The notion that humanity or human culture follows a curve of progression is, in the ultimate analysis, a false and misleading notion.

There is one assumption in particular that deserves to be examined carefully. It is the notion that the world would actually be an okay place if everyone was a feminist, a pacifist, and composted their garbage. The cruel fact is that all these things, in fact not fiction, tend to represent deeply shallow choices made by human beings who ought to be challenged to make more radical choices. And yes, I know, and I completely concur: in most cases, anti-feminism, anti-pacifism, and anti-environmentalism is just as deeply shallow, and reactionary to boot.


I'm trying to think who said this best in the last 100 years. I could be wrong, but I think it was Flannery O'Connor.

No, I don't have a toothache, Suzanne. I do have a sis'in-law in her 30s with two small children who is dying of cancer, with may be six months ahead of her, as I found out today.

Things like this always wash the Pollyanna out of me big time.

 
At Thu Apr 03, 06:50:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

It always bothers me that people get upset because Moses, Jesus, and Paul were not proto-feminists, did not push for the abolition of slavery, and were not pacifists...feminism is running the women of my church ragged.

Wayne, I don't think you know how funny it is to see Jesus on a donkey and then Suzanne calling John an Eeyore and then John agreeing with. Suzanne, More than ever I'm convinced, by you, that "accuracy" is not unimportant. John, Very sorry for your news about your sister in law.

Let me add quickly about cancer: my daughter, my wife, and her mother and father are all survivors of the wicked awful disease. One of my heroes Francis Schaeffer survived a while but is now with our Master. His letters to cancer patients, before & after he got it always acknowledged that we will all die some day--even Lazarus raised from death by Jesus died again. But we do not live in a closed universe Schaeffer said. At Lazarus's tomb, Jesus wept and was angry--though never at himself! He listens, and he is able to cure today too. The physicians, my pastor's wife, a young Christian intern at the hospital, all said my daughter's case was hopeless. I wrote about some of this in links here. It's not a testimony of false hope but of profound hope in a living God who loves us more than any of us imagine.

So if feminism is running anyone anywhere ragged, I say check it. Jesus is more a feminist than any ragged person can be. (He doesn't abuse women, or men, like our cultures--even bad feminisms--might). If the translation got it right, he says "Come to me all ye who are ragged." But I'm no preacher to be preaching, especially to you. I am deeply touched by the news of your sister in law's cancer! (I myself am still reeling from the news of a friend who decided to take his life and to leave behind his family). Cheers--in this world (what's it say in KJV?) we have "tribulation," which I think it qualifies with "but..."

 
At Thu Apr 03, 07:55:00 PM, Blogger John Hobbins said...

"Nobody knows the trouble I've seen."

Thanks, Kurk, for your encouraging words.

 
At Thu Apr 03, 08:53:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Toothache .... heartache. I'm sorry, John.

 
At Fri Apr 04, 09:41:00 AM, Blogger Jim Swindle said...

John,
I, too, am sorry for your heartache. May the Lord's grace meet you and your family, sustaining you at this time.

People too often forget that pastors (ministers, preachers, clergy) can be in just as much emotional pain as anyone else.

I pray that the Lord will encourage you; that he will shepherd all of you throughout this painful time.

 
At Sat Apr 05, 05:43:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Eeyore John, may Jesus ride on you and so encourage you by using you in his service.

 

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