Important Announcement

See here for an important message regarding the community which has become a read-only site as of October 31.

    Translating God's Word

    Bible Translation Is a Hazardous Duty

    Monday, June 11, 2012, 10:03 AM [General]
    Posted By: Apologist

    Bible translation goes back to 280 to 150 B.C.E., when (seventy-two, according to tradition) translators gave us the Hebrew Old Testament books in Greek. From those days forward, translators have lived very dangerous lives, in trying to bring us the Word of God in the common languages of man. Most times this has been from the religious organizations themselves, who have caused the suffering and death of many translators. There are many good books out there on the history of the Bible, one being by Neil R. Lightfoot, How We Got the Bible; another by Bruce M. Metzger, The Bible In Translation; As well as Journey from Texts to Translations, The: The Origin and Development of the Bible, by Paul Wegner.

    The English Bible

    The English Bible translation came to us in the late fourteenth century. John Wycliffe (c. 1328 – December 31, 1384), is the one credited with the handwritten translation. However, it was not rendered from the original language texts of Hebrew and Greek, but from the Latin Vulgate. Therefore, it was a translation of a translation. Exactly how much of the translation Wycliffe completed before his death in 1384 is unknown. However, what we do know is that there was strong opposition to his work. Both Wycliffe and those helping received bitter hatred from the religious leaders of his day. If it were not for his influence, he would have been martyred like many others.

    However, the story of Wycliffe does not end with his death. The Church leadership continued to oppose the copying of the Wycliffe translation. Some 24-years after Wycliffe’s death, in 1408, a Church council met in Oxford at the direction of Archbishop Arundel, prohibiting the use of the Holy Scriptures in English. This ban by the clergy was not going to stand up, as the people wanted to have a copy of the only English translation available to them. We have evidence of such, as we possess today nearly 200 copies of the Wycliffe translation, many that were made after 1420. John Wycliffe was so despised that these religious leaders had his bones dug up in 1428 to be burned, with the ashes to be cast into the river Swift.

    William Tyndale

    It would not be until the sixteenth century that we would see a translation that was rendered from the original language texts of Hebrew and Greek. It would be the William Tyndale, who would bring us our first printed English translation. Thinking that he could acquire the backing of Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall, Tyndale went to London. However, he was unsuccessful in getting the bishop’s support.

    While still in London, Tyndale came to the realization that there would be no translation with the current attitude of the religious leaders in England. Therefore, in 1524 he headed for Germany. Once in Cologne, the translation of the New Testament got under way. However, the magistrates of Cologne were none too happy about this news as it reached them. Thus, they put a stop to the work. This forced Tyndale to move on to Worms; there the printing of the New Testament was finally completed. In time, translations of this New Testament were flooding England. Meanwhile, back in Worms, Tyndale continued his revision work on the translation.

    Needless to say, the English church authorities were beside themselves with rage. On May 4, 1530, copies of Tyndale’s translation were burned at St. Paul’s Cross in London. At the end of May, there was a royal decree backed by the church authorities, which listed the translation of Tyndale among wicked books and stated, “Detest them, abhor them; keep them not in your hands, deliver them to the superiors such as call for them.” For those that would think of ignoring the decree, it continued, “The prelates of the church, having the care and charge of your souls, ought to compel you, and your prince to punish and correct you.” There was no effort spared in attempts at destroying the translations in England.

    One of the reasons for such great hatred on the part of the religious leaders was Tyndale’s choice renderings of some terms. For instance, he chose to use “congregation” over “church;” “overseer” instead of “bishop;” and “love” in place of “charity.” It did not matter to the religious authorities that his choice of words was more accurate as to the original language terms. Even still, Tyndale had said he would correct anything that was proven inaccurate or that could be translated more clearly. The fact of the matter was that the religious authorities knew that these renderings affected the power of the church, giving the power back to the people. 

    In time, Tyndale’s efforts were to come to a close, as a man named Phillips pretended to be his friend and then betrayed him like Judas had done Christ. Tyndale was arrested and imprisoned in the castle of Vilvorde, near Brussels. In September of 1536, he was executed by being strangling and burned.

    The man, William Tyndale, a great scholar, set the foundation of translation from the 1611 King James Version, which was 90 percent Tyndale up unto the 2001 English Standard Version. Tyndale knowing that, day-in-and-day-out, his life was at risk, but he sought to bring to the English world, the Word of God, and not for glory or honor, but for the love of God and neighbor. There are dozens of men and women, who have suffered martyrdom to bring us God’s Word. Truly, the Bible translator has taken on a very dangerous task.

    1 Timothy 2:3-4 English Standard Version (ESV)

    3This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Dutch Scholar Erasmus of Rotterdam

    Monday, June 11, 2012, 9:58 AM [General]
    Posted By: Apologist

    I WOULD have these words translated into all languages, so that not only Scots and Irish, but Turks and Saracens too might read them . . . I long for the ploughboy to sing them to himself as he follows his plough, the weaver to hum them to the tune of his shuttle, the traveler to beguile with them the dullness of his journey. (Clayton 2006, 230)

    Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus penned those words in the early part of the 16th century. Like his English counterpart, William Tyndale, it was his greatest desire that God’s Word be widely translated, and that even the plowboy would have access to it.

    Much time has passed since the Reformation, and 98 percent of the world we live in today has access to the Bible. There is little wonder that the Bible has become the bestseller of all time. It has influenced men from all walks of life to fight for freedom and truth. This is especially true during the Reformation of Europe throughout the 16th century. These leading men were of great faith, courage and strength, such as Martin Luther, William Tyndale, while others, like Erasmus, was more subtle in the change that he produced. Thus, it has been said of the Reformation that Martin Luther only opened the door to it after Erasmus picked the lock.

    There is not one historian of the period, who would deny that Erasmus was a great scholar. Remarking on his character, the Catholic Encyclopedia says: “He had an unequalled talent for form, great journalistic gifts, a surpassing power of expression: for strong and moving discourse, keen irony, and covert sarcasm, he was unsurpassed.” (Vol. 5, p. 514) Consequently, when Erasmus went to see Sir Thomas More, the Lord Chancellor of England, just before Erasmus made himself known, More was so impressed with his exchange that he shortly said: “You are either Erasmus or the Devil.”

    The wit of Erasmus was evidenced in a response that he gave to Frederick, elector of Saxony, who asked him what he thought about Martin Luther. Erasmus retorted: “Luther has committed two blunders; he has ventured to touch the crown of the pope and the bellies of the monks.” (Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature: Vol. 3 – p, 279) However, we must ask what type of influence did the Bible have on Erasmus and, in turn, what did he do to affect its future? First, let us look at the early years of Erasmus’ life.

    Erasmus’ Early Life

    He was born in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, in 1466. He was not a happy boy living in a home as the illegitimate son of a Dutch priest. He was faced with the double tragedy of his mother’s death at seventeen, and his father shortly thereafter. His guardians ignored his desire to enter the university; rather they sent him to the Augustinian monastery of Steyn. Erasmus gained a vast knowledge of the Latin language, the classic as well as the Church Fathers. In time, this type of life was so detestable to him; he jumped on the opportunity, at the age of twenty-six, to become secretary to the bishop of Cambrai, Henry of Bergen, in France. This afforded him his chance to enter university studies in Paris. However, he was a sickly man, always ill, suffering from poor health throughout his entire life.

    It was in 1499 that Erasmus was invited to visit England. It was here that he met Thomas More, John Colet and other theologians in London, which fortified his resolution to apply himself to Biblical studies. In order to understand the Bible’s message better, he applied himself more fully in his study of Greek, soon being able to teach it to others. It was around this time that Erasmus penned a treatise entitled Handbook of the Christian Soldier, in which he advised the young Christian to study the Bible, saying: “There is nothing that you can believe with greater certitude than what you read in these writings.” (Erasmus and Dolan 1983, 37)

    While trying to escape the plague, make a living in an economy that had bottomed worse than our 20th century Great Depression, Erasmus found himself at Louvain, Belgium, in 1504. It was here that he fell in love with the study of textual criticism while visiting the Monastery of Parc. Within the library Erasmus discovered a manuscript of Italian scholar Lorenzo Valla: Annotations on the New Testament. Textual criticism is an art and science that studies manuscripts, evaluating internal and external evidence, especially of the Bible or works of literature, in order to determine which readings are the original or most authentic. Erasmus had commissioned himself toward the task of restoring the original text of the Greek New Testament.

    Erasmus moved on to Italy and subsequently pushed on to England once again. It is this trip that brought to mind his original meeting with Thomas More, meditating on the origin of More’s name (moros, Greek for “a fool”); he penned a write or satire, which he called Praise of Folly. In this work, Erasmus takes the abstract quality “folly” as being a human being, and pictured it as encroaching in all aspects of life, but nowhere is folly more in obvious than amid the theologians and clergy. This is his subtle way of exposing the abuses of the clergy. It is these abuses, which had brought on the Reformation that was now festering. “As to the popes,” he wrote, “if they claim to be the successors of the Apostles they should consider that the same things are required of them as were practiced by their predecessors.” Instead of doing this, he perceived, they believe that “to teach the people is too laborious; to interpret the scripture is to invade the prerogative of the schoolmen; to pray is too idle.” There is little wonder that it was said of Erasmus that he had “a surpassing power of expression”! (Nichols 2006, Vol. 2, 6)

    The First Greek Text

    Whilst teaching Greek at Cambridge University in England, Erasmus continued with his work of revising the text of the Greek New Testament. One of his friends, Martin Dorpius, attempted to persuade him that the Latin did not need to be corrected from the Greek. Dorpius makes the same error in thinking that the “King James Only” people make, arguing: “For is it likely that the whole Catholic Church would have erred for so many centuries, seeing that she has always used and sanctioned this translation? Is it probable that so many holy fathers, so many consummate scholars would have longed to convey a warning to a friend?”  (Campbell 1949, 71) Thomas More joined Erasmus in replying to these arguments, making the point that the importance lies within having an accurate text in the original languages.

    In Basel, Switzerland, Erasmus was about to be hassled by the printer Johannes Froben. Froben was alerted that Cardinal Ximenes of Toledo, Spain, had been putting together a Greek and Latin Testament in 1514. However, he was delaying publication until he had the whole Bible completed. The first printed Greek critical text would have set the standard, with the other being all but ignored. Erasmus published his first edition in 1516, while the Complutensian Polyglot (many languages) was not issued until 1522

    The fact that Erasmus was rushed to no end, resulted in a Greek text that contained hundreds of typographical errors alone.[1] Textual scholar Scrivener once stated: ‘[It] is in that respect the most faulty book I know,’ (Scrivener 1894, 185) This comment does not even take into consideration the blatant interpolations (insert readings) into the text that were not part of the original. Erasmus was not lost to the typographical errors, which corrected a good many in later editions. This did not include the textual errors. It was his second edition of 1519 that was used by Martin Luther in his German translation and William Tyndale’s English translation. This is exactly what Erasmus wanted, writing the following in that editions preface: “I would have these words translated into all languages. . . . I long for the ploughboy to sing them to himself as he follows his plough.”

    Sadly, the continuous reproduction of this debased Greek New Testament, gave rise to it becoming the standard, being called the Textus Receptus (Received Text), taking over 400 years before it was dethroned by the critical Text of B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort in 1881. Regardless of its imperfection, the Erasmus critical edition began the all-important work of textual criticism, which has only brought about a better critical text, as well as more accurate Bible translations.

    As was true with many other early Bibles in the early days of the Reformation, it had its detractors. Like the Geneva Bible, but on a much tamer note, Erasmus was critical of the clergy in his notes. For instance, the text of Matthew 16:18, which says, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” (Douay) Very plainly, he rejects the idea that this text is applied to primacy Peter, and that the pope is a successor of such. Imagine writing such a thing in the very edition you are going to dedicate to the pope! We can certainly see why Erasmus’ works were prohibited, even in the universities.

    Erasmus was not only concerned with ascertaining the original words; he was just as concerned with achieving an accurate understanding of those words. In 1519, he penned Principles of True Theology (shortened to The Ratio). Herein he introduces his principles for Bible study, his interpretation rules. Among them is the thought of never taking a quotation out of its context nor out of the line of thought of its author. Erasmus saw the Bible as a whole work by one author, and it should interpret itself.

    Erasmus Contrasted With Luther

    Erasmus penned a treatise called Familiar Colloquies in 1518, where again he was exposing the corruptions on the Church and the monasteries. Just one year earlier, in 1517, Martin Luther had nailed his 95 theses on the church door at Wittenberg, denouncing the indulgences, the scandal that had rocked numerous countries. Many folk were likely thinking that these two could bring change, and reform. This was not going to be a team effort though, as they both were at opposite ends of the spectrum on how to bring this reform about. Luther would come to condemn Erasmus, because he was viewed as being too moderate, seeking to peacefully make change within the Church. Many have viewed it as Erasmus thinking and writing, while Luther appeared to go beyond that with his actions.

    The seemingly small bond they may have shared (by way of their writings against the Church establishment), was torn down the middle in 1524 when Erasmus penned the essay On the Freedom of the Will. Luther believed that salvation results from “justification by faith alone” (Latin, sola fide) and not from priestly absolution or works of penance. In fact, Luther was so adamant on his belief of “justification by faith alone” that in his Bible translation, he added the word “alone” to Romans 3:28. What Luther failed to understand was that Paul was writing about the works of the Mosaic Law. (Romans 3:19, 20, 28) Thus, Luther denied the notion that man possesses a free will. However, Erasmus would not accept such faulty reasoning, in that it would make God unjust, because this would suggest that man would be unable to act in such a way as to affect his salvation.

    As the Reformation was growing throughout Europe, Erasmus was seeing complaints from both sides. Many of the religious leaders who supported the reform movement chose to leave the Catholic Church. While they could not predict the result of their decision, they moved forward, many ending in death. This would not be true of Erasmus though, for he withdrew from the debate, yet he did refuse to be made cardinal. His approach was to try to appease both sides. Thus, Rome saw his writings as being that of a heretic, prohibiting them, while the reformers denounced him as refusing to risk his life for the cause. Here was a man, emotionally broken over criticism, but in fear of rocking the boat with Rome, so he cautiously sat on the sideline.

    The affairs of Erasmus to the Reformation can be summarized as follows: “He was a reformer until the Reformation became a fearful reality; a jester at the bulwarks of the papacy until they began to give way; a propagator of the Scriptures until men betook themselves to the study and the application of them; depreciating the mere outward forms of religion until they had come to be estimated at their real value; in short, a learned, ingenious, benevolent, amiable, timid, irresolute man, who, bearing the responsibility, resigned to others the glory of rescuing the human mind from the bondage of a thousand years. The distance between his career and that of Luther was therefore continually enlarging, until they at length moved in opposite directions, and met each other with mutual animosity.”— (McClintock and Strong 1894, 278).

    The greatest gain from the Reformation is that the common person can now hold God’s Word in his hand. In fact, the Englishperson has over 100 different translations from which to choose. From these 16th century life and death struggles, in which Erasmus shared, there has materialized dependable and accurate Bible translations. Consequently, the ‘plowboy’ of 98 percent of the world can pick up his Bible, or at least part of it.

    The Textus Receptus

    The Dark Ages (5th to 15th centuries C.E.), was a time when the Church had the Bible locked up in the Latin language, and scholarship and learning were nearly nonexistent. However, with the birth of the Morning Star of the Reformation, John Wycliffe (1328-1384), and more officially in the 16th century Reformation, and the invention of the printing press in 1455, the restraints were loosened, and there was a rebirth of interest in the Greek language. Moreover, with the fall of Constantinople to the Turks 1453 C. E., many Greek scholars and their manuscripts were scattered abroad, resulting in a revival of Greek in the Western citadels of learning.

    About fifty years later, or in the  beginning of the sixteenth century, Ximenes, archbishop of Toledo, Spain, a man of rare capability and honor, invited foremost scholars of his land to his university at Alcala to produce a multiple-language Bible—not for the common people, but for the educated,. The outcome would be the Polyglot, named Complutensian corresponding to the Latin of Alcala. This would be a Bible of six large volumes, beautifully bound, containing the Old Testament in four languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Latin) and the New Testament in two (Greek and Latin). For the Greek New Testament these scholars had only a few manuscripts available to them, and those of late origin. One may wonder why this was the case, when they were supposed to have access to the Vatican library. This Bible was completed in 1514, providing the first printed Greek New Testament, but did not receive approval by the pope to be published until 1520 and was not released to the public until 1522.

    Froben, a printer in Basel, Switzerland became aware of the completion of the Complutensian Polyglot Bible and of its pending consent by the pope to be published. Immediately, he saw a prospect for making profits. He at once sent word to the Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus (1469-1536), who was the foremost European scholar of the day and whose works he had published in Latin, beseeching him to hurry through a Greek New Testament text. In an attempt to bring the first published Greek text to completion, Erasmus was only able to locate, in July of 1515, a few late cursive manuscripts for collating and preparing his text. It would go to press in October of 1515, and would be completed by March of 1516. In fact, Erasmus was in such a hurried mode he rushed the manuscript containing the Gospels to the printer without first editing it, making such changes, as he felt was necessary on the proof sheets. Because of this great rush job this work also contained hundreds of typographical errors. Erasmus himself admitted this in its preface that it was “rushed through rather than edited.” Bruce Metzger referred to the Erasmian text as a “debased form of the Greek testament. (B. M. Metzger 1964, 1968, 1992, 103)

    Needless to say, Erasmus was moved to produce an improved text in four succeeding editions of 1519, 1522, 1527, and 1535. Erasmus’ editions of the Greek text, we are informed, ended up being an excellent achievement, a literary sensation. They were inexpensive, and the first two editions totaled 3,300 copies, in comparison to the 600 copies of the large and expensive six-volume Polyglot Bible. In the preface of his first edition Erasmus stated, “I vehemently dissent from those who would not have private persons read the Holy Scriptures, nor have them translated into the vulgar tongues.” (Baer 2007, 268)

    Except for everyday practical consideration the editions of Erasmus had little to vouch for them, for he had access to five (some say eight) Greek manuscripts of reasonably late origin and none of these were of the whole Greek New Testament. Rather, these comprised one or more sections into which the Greek texts were normally divided: (1) the Gospels; (2) Acts and the general epistles (James through Jude); (3) the letters of Paul; (4) Revelation. In fact, of the some 5,750 Greek New Testament manuscripts that we now have, only about fifty are complete.

    Consequently, Erasmus had but one copy of Revelation (twelfth century). Since it was incomplete, he merely retranslated the missing last six verses of the book from the Latin Vulgate back into Greek. He even frequently brought his Greek text in line with the Latin Vulgate; this is why there are some twenty readings in his Greek text not found in any other Greek manuscript.

    Martin Luther would use Erasmus’ 1519 edition for his German translation, and William Tyndale would use the 1522 edition for his English translation. Erasmus’ editions were also the foundation for further Greek editions of the New Testament by others. For instance the four published by Robert Estienne (Stephanus, 1503-59). According to Bruce Metzger, the third of these, published by Stephanus, in 1550, became the Textus Receptus or Received Text of Britain and the basis of the King James Version. This took place through Theodore de Beza (1519-1605), whose work was based on the corrupted third and fourth editions of the Erasmian text. Beza would produce nine editions of the Greek text, four being independent (1565, 1589, 1588-9, 1598), and the other five smaller reprints. It would be two of Beza’s editions, that of 1589 and 1598, which would become the English Received Text.

    Beza’s Greek edition of the New Testament did not even differ as much as might be expected from those of Erasmus. Why do I say, as might be expected? Beza was a friend of the Protestant reformer John Calvin, succeeding him at Geneva, and was also a well-known classical and biblical scholar. In addition, Beza possessed two important Greek manuscripts of the fourth and fifth century, the D and Dp (also known as D2), the former of which contains most of the Gospels and Acts, as well as a fragment of 3 John and the latter containing the Pauline epistles. The Dutch Elzevir editions followed next, which were virtually identical to those of the Erasmian-influenced Beza text. It was in the second of seven of these, published in 1633, that there appeared the statement in the preface (in Latin): “You therefore now have the text accepted by everybody, in which we give nothing changed or corrupted.” On the continent, this edition became the Textus Receptus or the Received Text. It seems that this success was in no small way due to the beauty and useful size of the Elzevir editions.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    The King James Version after 400 Years: Looking Back, Looking Forward

    Monday, June 11, 2012, 9:56 AM [General]
    Posted By: Apologist

    Leland Ryken

    Wheaton College

    The King James Version has reached the milestone of the 400th anniversary of its first publication. Academic and religious conferences, museum displays, books and articles, and commemorative editions of the KJV have exploded in such quantity that 2011 can confidently be declared the year of the King James Bible. Although King James I granted a Puritan request for a new Bible translation with the sneering put-down that he had never seen the Bible well translated into English, a spirit of benediction fell on the process of translation and the book that resulted.

    The King James Version is a book of superlatives. For three centuries, when English-speaking people spoke of "the Bible," they meant the King James Version. The King James Bible is the all-time best seller among English language books, and according to David Daniell, in his magisterial book The Bible in English, the KJV is still the best-selling book worldwide. The King James Bible is the most quoted English book, the most widely read, the most printed, and the most influential. It is no wonder that Gordon Campbell claims in his book Bible:  The Story of the King James Version 1611-2011 that the King James Version is "the most important book in the English language."

    The King James Version in the church

    We can divide the influence of the King James Bible into the two spheres of its influence in (1) the church and (2) the culture of England and America. From the time of its publication until the middle of the twentieth century, the King James Bible was the only major Bible in use among Christian individuals, families, and churches.

    I myself grew up in that milieu. When at the age of nine my parents gave me a Bible with my name embossed on it, it was a King James Bible. I memorized verses from the King James Bible at home, school, and church. Twice every Sunday the King James Version was read and expounded from the pulpit. I heard the King James Bible read after every meal, three times a day. My experience was doubtless replicated by millions of English-speaking Christians through the centuries.

    When we pick up Bible commentaries from the past like Matthew Henry’s commentary, we find that the authors who wrote them do not even tell us what translation of the Bible they have used (in obvious contrast to commentaries published in recent decades). It was simply understood that the author of a commentary had used the King James Version as the base text. If we read the sermons of the towering preachers of the past—Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, Billy Graham—the quotations from the Bible are from the King James Version. When we step into a church in England or America that has Bible verses on the walls, we hardly need to ask what translation is represented: it is the King James Version.

    The cultural influence in the King James Version

    Until the middle of the twentieth century, the Bible formed the universally accepted frame of reference for English-speaking cultures. Here, too, it was axiomatic that the King James Version was the Bible in view. In my book The Legacy of the King James Bible, I survey the spheres of culture where the King James Version was preeminent for over three centuries They include public discourse (such as presidential addresses and courtroom speeches), education, music, visual art, and literature.

    One of my favorite pieces of research for my book was public inscriptions that bear texts from the King James Version.  During my years at the University of Oregon I could look up every time I entered the library and read, "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32, KJV). Every year two million visitors file past the cracked Liberty Bell in Philadelphia and read, “Proclaim LIBERTY through all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof” (Leviticus 25:10, KJV). Inscribed on the "Isaiah wall" across the street from the United Nations headquarters in New York City is Isaiah 2:4: "They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks…."

    But these inscriptions are merely a shorthand index to the influence of the King James Version in culture.  Even if every copy of the King James Version were to suddenly vanish, the King James Bible would live on in the music, visual art, and literature of the English-speaking world.

    It is right that the King James Version is being honored in many corners of England and America in this anniversary year. Regardless of what English translation one uses today, Christians should celebrate the fact that the King James Bible is the most influential English-language book of all time. Conversely, the sneering put-downs of the King James Version by people who prefer dynamic equivalent and colloquial translations are inappropriate.  Instead of gloating over the proliferation of modern translations, we should take stock of what was lost with the proliferation that began in the middle of the twentieth century. What was lost was a common Bible and all of the advantages that resulted from having a single Bible that English-speaking Christendom used. Biblical illiteracy has accompanied the eclipse of the King James Bible.

    The King James Version today

    The remainder of this article will cast an eye to the future and ask what functions the King James Version can serve in a day when it is only one of a dozen prominent English Bibles. But before I look forward, I want to take stock of the King James Version today.

    First, the rumors of the demise of the King James Version have been greatly exaggerated (to cite the comment made by Mark Twain when he read a newspaper account claiming that he was dead). If we consult the current sales of English Bibles, we will find that the King James Version is either second or third on the list. Then if we look at web sites related to the King James Bible, we find many churches and schools that remain loyal users of the King James Version. People who use a modern translation (as I myself do) have an unwarranted tendency to assume that everyone else, too, has abandoned the King James Version for a modern translation.

    Additionally, in the literary sphere the King James Version continues to reign unchallenged. Within my own guild of literary authors and scholars, the number of people who use anything other than the King James Version in their literary endeavors is statistically insignificant. Similarly, any study of art and music from the past that is rooted in the King James Bible requires that teachers and students use the same translation that is woven into the fabric of the art and music. In fact, every time we read a sermon, a religious document, a novel, a poem, a courtroom speech, a political speech from the seventeenth century through the middle of the twentieth century that quotes from the Bible, the King James Version lives on in the present.

    Looking forward

    I have already provided several answers to the question of what we can expect for the KJV in the future.  We can expect thousands and probably millions of English-speaking readers to continue to read the King James Bible. We can expect literary authors and to a lesser extent musical composers to weave the King James Version into their artistic works. And scholars who teach and write about the literature, art, and music of the past have no good alternative to using the KJV in their scholarship.

    My subject in the rest of this essay is to explore the continuing usefulness of the KJV as a model for English Bible translation today. My starting point is a comment that Alister McGrath makes on the last page of his book entitled In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture. "The true heirs of the King James translators," writes McGrath, "are those who continue their task today, not those who declare it to have been definitively concluded in 1611." I interpret McGrath’s phrase "those who continue their task today" to mean "those who perpetuate the translation philosophy and style of the King James Version." I think that the statement is preeminently true of the English Standard Version.

    There are two dimensions to an English Bible, and accordingly two spheres in which the King James Version can serve as a reliable guide to modern translators. One is the content of a translation—what the translators put in front of the reading public as representing what the authors of the Bible wrote. The second is the style in which an English translation is embodied. Beginning in the middle of the twentieth century, all translation committees have faced a need to choose between perpetuating the King James tradition and repudiating it.

    I want to start my projection into the future by elaborating on my previous statement that modern translation committees face a fork in the road at which they must make a choice. The King James Bible itself was a synthesis of a series of six English Bible translations that had appeared during the sixteenth century, starting with William Tyndale. Unlike what prevails with many modern translations, the King James translators did not wish to be innovative and original. They did not view the preceding translations as rivals but as contributors to their own effort. The entire sixteenth century project was based on a communal understanding of knowledge in which successive translators viewed themselves as inheriting a great tradition, improving it, and then passing it on.

    The preface to the King James Version makes this principle of continuity with the existing tradition explicit. In a famous statement in the prefatory document entitled “The Translators to the Reader,” we read, "Truly (good Christian Reader) we never thought from the beginning, that we should need to make a new Translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one, . . . but to make a good one better, or out of many good ones, one principal good one, not to be excepted against."

    This principle of perpetuating the great tradition from Tyndale through the King James Version is one way in which the KJV continues to exert an influence even among translators and readers who cast their lot with a modern translation. The prefaces to three modern translations explicitly align those translations with what is variously called the King James tradition, the Tyndale-King James legacy, and the classic mainstream of English Bible translations. The three translations that consciously perpetuate the principles of the King James tradition are the Revised Standard Version, the New King James Version, and the English Standard Version.

    By contrast, adherents of dynamic equivalent translations and colloquial translations either distance themselves from the King James tradition or repudiate it. One will look in vain for any statement of continuity with the KJV in the prefaces to these translations. The reason is obvious: the translators who produced these translations do not agree with the translation philosophy or the stylistic norms of the King James tradition. I turn now to these two subjects.

    Perpetuating the translation philosophy of the King James Version

    The King James translators did not consciously choose the translation philosophy that today goes by such names as verbal equivalence, essentially literal, or formal equivalence. Starting with Tyndale and running through the middle of the twentieth century, this was the only view of Bible of translation that held any genuine credence. Tyndale actually coined as many as two thousand English words in an effort to render in English what the biblical authors had written. Examples include intercession, atonement, peacemaker, and Passover. Not until the rise of dynamic equivalence was there any widespread doubt that the goal of English Bible translation was to take the reader as close as possible to the very words of the biblical authors.

    The King James Version accepted this premise without reservation. The translators found an equivalent English word or phrase for everything that was in the original text—but not more than was in the original text. They were so scrupulous about keeping the record straight regarding the original text that they followed the practice of the Geneva Bible of putting into italics words that had been added for the sake of intelligibility or fluency in English.

    As we look toward the future, then, we can say that the King James Version lives on among modern translations that likewise give readers an equivalent English word of phrase for everything that is in the original. The true significance of this is blunted if we simply quote from an essentially literal modern translation. To see the true significance, we need to set a literal translation alongside dynamic equivalent translations. The King James model lives on when a modern translation renders the last verse of Psalm 87 as "all my springs are in you." It dies when non-literal translations render it as "I too am from Jerusalem"(CEV) or "all good things come from Jerusalem"(NCV) or "in Zion is the source of all our blessings."(GNB)

    Honoring the King James Style

    Content is one half of an English Bible translation, and style is the other half. Style refers to the vocabulary and sentence structure through which the translation embodies the content. What role can the King James Version serve for future English Bible translation?  That question is easily answered: the King James Version lives on as a stylistic influence in the branch of English Bible translations that position themselves in the King James lineage, also called the classic mainstream of English Bible translation.

    Since I believe that the English Standard Version (ESV) is truest to the King James style, though in updated language and grammar, I will take my illustrations from it. Right in the preface we can see the claim that the ESV perpetuates the style of the King James Version. The preface claims that the ESV retains the “enduring language" of the King James tradition. That is a virtual code language for "the dignity, beauty, and elegance that is a hallmark of the King James Bible." The adjectives that we find in the prefaces of colloquial translations are "fresh" and "innovative" and "common," but emphatically not "enduring." Elsewhere the preface to the ESV speaks of the "simplicity, beauty, and dignity of expression" that it carries on from the King James Version and Revised Standard Version.

    It is not immediately apparent what descriptors to use when describing the King James style, but the words elegant (not to be equated with eloquent), dignified, and beautiful are indisputably accurate. The King James translators and their modern heirs do not reduce the Bible to the level of conversational or colloquial discourse as it prevails in the dormitory or the local coffee shop. At this point it is relevant to observe that the Bible in its original form is a primarily literary book. Literature always does things with language and syntax that elevate a statement above informal conversation.

    The key to the style of the King James Version and the English Standard Version is that it is elegant without being stilted. The actual vocabulary is often simple, but the effect is majestic. Since any choice of a specimen is somewhat arbitrary, I will simply select the famous statement from Jesus found in Luke 11:9-10:  "Ask, and it will be give to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened" (ESV). The vocabulary is simple, but the patterns of parallelism and antithesis raise the statement far above the chatter at the bus stop.


    The King James Version is far from dead. It lives on as a cultural presence, especially (but not only) in the culture that comes to us from the past. It lives on among readers and churches that use it as their primary Bible. It lives on in modern translations like the ESV that perpetuate the translation philosophy and stylistic norms of the King James Version.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Page 1 of 5  •  1 2 3 4 5 Next

Journal Categories