Sunday, January 23, 2011

KJV @ 400

Just a reminder today of the debt we owe people who went on before us, and for Deseret News reporter Sara Israelsen-Hartley, who wrote an interesting article on the 400th anniversary of the King James version of the Bible, which contains quite a few reminders of what we owe the scholars and translators -- and King James himself -- for creating for us a spiritual and literary treasure.

I don't pretend to be a scholar of anything, let alone one of the Bible. But I can agree that the language used in the King James version does have that poetic, lyrical quality that makes other translations I've read -- and certainly the paraphrases I've read -- sound stilted and shallow in comparison.

Christmas, of course, would not be the same for me without the Gospel of Luke, delivered thus:

It's hard to believe this scene would be as impactful had Charles Schulz used a different version of the story, such as this:
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep.

Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified,

but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.

The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!

And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
To those who like the New Living Translation, let me be clear here: I'm not saying the NLT is bad. I am saying, however, that maybe if the KJV is a bit more difficult to understand, it is more mellifuous. And I'll say that when we study the scriptures with our children, we do paraphrasing when we explain what we just read, but at the tame time we want them exposed to the sound of scripture, so they grow accustomed to it.

Going back to what Israelson-Hartley writes, I like what Tim Brearley, director of the King James Bible Trust, says about the book:
"The King James is poetry," said Brearley, director of the King James Bible Trust, a group established in England to commemorate the 400th anniversary through conferences, performances, celebrations and publications. "You find that as soon as you start saying it out loud, it helps you. The words start to carry you along and it's got that resonance to it."

The rhythm has been captured in famous speeches, like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream," and his allusion to Amos 5:24: "No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream," and Isaiah 40:4-5, "I have a dream that every valley shall be exalted."

"Would a modern translation have that force?" asked Brearley. "I don't know. I think that would be a tough one."
I think we've all got bits of the Bible that we enjoy reading, if not just for the spirit, but also for the sound. I enjoy reading Habakkuk Chapter 1, certainly for the message but also certainly for the sound of the words.

And what a debt we owe William Tynsdale, who years before the King James Version, translated the original Greek and Hebrew into English, giving us much of the Biblical language we know today. (I won't go over the history here; read Israelsen-Hartley's article instead.) Certainly here was an inspired man, working with the will of God to bring His message to those who needed to hear it.

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