Thinking Out Loud

December 26, 2011

KJV 400th — The Party’s Over

Last one out, turn off the lights, okay?

Well that was fun.  But now it’s over.  We politely saluted the survival of a 400-year-old or 222-year-old (if you prefer the present 1789 edition to the 1611) translation of the Bible.  The KJV version is more than a mere blip in thousands of years of Bible translation in hundreds of languages, but not much more than that in the larger scheme of languages and centuries.

It served us well.  It propelled the idea advanced by William Tyndale that the Bible should be available in the common language; that whoever your society counts as the least — the classic ‘garbage collector’ comes to mind, though they often make good money — should be able to access the Bible and understand it.

Today however, the understandability of a Bible translated in 1611 but not significantly updated since the late 1700’s is a questionable premise.  For several reasons:

  1. English is a fluid, changing language.  In the words of the Cliff Richard song, “It’s so funny how we don’t talk like that anymore.”  (I may have added a couple of words.)  Furthermore, some words actually mean the opposite today of what they did then.
  2. We now have better manuscripts.  And verification from a greater number of fragments found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.  And a whole lot of other documents that are contemporary to the time the Bible documents were written.  So we know, for example that some KJV place names are really people names and vice versa.  (John White’s The King James Only Controversy is must-reading on this subject.)
  3. We have higher standards of translation and a better understanding of when to include something in the text and when to add it as a footnote or save it for a commentary.  We also know — for sure — that Paul did not invoke the name of God in Romans 6:1.  No other translation adopts the KJV “God forbid!”  It is — to use a word that offends Bible translation purists — a paraphrase.  A British colloquialism.
  4. Perpetuating language written in a Shakespearean form somehow robs the Bible of its relevance to real people living real lives in the 21st century.  Yes, it may be  easier to memorize, and it sounds churchy, but it clearly has what linguist Eugene Nida calls “a high fog index.”  Really, to cling to it in 2012 is no different than the attitude of Roman Catholics who perpetuated the Latin Mass.  And it defies the spirit of William Tyndale, who the KJV translation team greatly revered.
  5. There’s a guilty-by-association thing going on with the KJV-only crowd:  The people who stand for the exclusivity of this particular text often tend to stand for other causes.  I wouldn’t necessarily associate them people who picket soldier’s funerals, or the people who burn the Koran, or the people who wildly predict dates for the world to end.  No, I’d leave that for you to connect the dots.  Heck, even the King James Bible translators weren’t KJV-only.

So enough, already.  Let’s put the KJVs on a shelf and display them only when the occasion arises.   Let’s haul them out when we’re trying to find that verse we learned in our childhood.  Let’s refer to them when we want to see what verses Grandma and Grandpa underlined or highlighted.

But otherwise, in terms of everyday use, let us determine that anyone under forty (at the very least) will finally lay the KJV to rest, because, truth be told, most of us attended the KJV-400 party only because we love the Bible and we love a good celebration.

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