Great Style

This is the second and last of my blogs celebrating the 400th anniversary of the King James translation of the Bible. Being a missionary whose support come from people and churches, I probably should be careful about blogging about a sensitive topic. But I am going to jump in any way.

The language and style of the King James Translation is quite amazing. Even those who have no sympathy for its teachings recognize its contribution to the English language. For them, this anniversary is a great literary event. If you are a proponent of the King James Version, you don’t have to convince me of its literary value. That is more than an observation of what people others say. I still use it myself along with other translations.

I do, however, have a problem with some of the arguments in favor of the KJV because of its literary value. I listened to a quite thorough defense of using only the King James Bible. When speaking to its literary value the speaker said that he had to wonder about the taste of those who use other translations. That sentence got a number of affirmative reactions from the audience

Since when has good taste in literature become a requirement of or result of faith in Christ? What place can bad or good taste in literature have in salvation by grace alone?

While the incident is related above is not indicative of all who use and value the King James Bible. But it does help highlight a huge question about the KJV’s literary value and what relationship that has, if any, to faith. Is high literary value important for faith? Is it necessary to have “good taste” in English literature to find faith and grow as a disciple? Is having great style a necessary quality of a translation? You may have guessed that I don’t think so.

In I Corinthians chapters 1 and 2, the Apostle Paul contrasts God’s wisdom and man’s. Consider these verses.

“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are” (1:26-28 ESV)

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. (2:1-2 ESV)

The King James Bible is most definitely not:

  • foolish in the world
  • weak in the world
  • low and despised in the world

The attention given to it by scholars of all faiths and non-faith shows that it is esteemed.

The Apostle also notes that there were few “wise” among the Corinthian believers. So they probably did not have an appreciation for high literature. In this regard the Corinthians were like the apostles who were “uneducated, common men” (Acts 4:13 ESV).

I think that those who believe that high literary value is a necessary, or even universally helpful, part of a Bible translation have a big theological problem. They cannot make a biblical argument in its favor, although they can make plenty of human arguments. In fact, the biblical arguments seem to line up against it

Christianity is growing fast. It has expanded way beyond English and beyond the West. Many of these “new” Christians are poor, marginalized and under-educated through no fault of their own. After an exceptional period of power and education, it seems that God us again taking his church to where not many of its members will not be wise, powerful or noble by this world’s standards. Are we to tell them that they need to read and appreciate only translations of high literary value?

So, if you find the language of the King James Bible inspiring and helpful, by all means read it. But please, don’t imply to others that this makes you better or that they are somehow missing out. Instead, humble yourself to recognize that God more often chooses the unsophisticated person and their unsophisticated language to bring glory to himself and advance his kingdom.

7 thoughts on “Great Style

  1. I think the translation of 1611 leaves us a legacy of how to go about Bible translation. The “nuts and bolts” of doing it were the same then as now. The challenges of presenting thoughts written in one language clearly in another remian the same, in essence. Balancing accuracy of literation with clarity of meaning (whether to translate literally or paraphrase) is challenging too!

    I come across some of these challenges myself in writing Bible commentaries, as I search for words to convey the meaning of each text, but at least I don’t have to convey my thoughts to another language or culture! For me, an Englishman, the 1611 version did this for me, and that was Wycliffe’s own vision when he began to work to achieve an English translation. We take the challenge of the 1611 translation, and continue (in various ways) with the same work – making His Word known.

    I often refer to the AV for myself, but never in public – for a little boy asked me many years ago, “Sir, what is a ‘Thou’?” and ever since then I’ve mainly used the NKJV!
    God bless.

    • Thank you for your thoughts. Yes, the translation enterprise is still essentially the same as it was in 1611. We know little more about language and the original languages, but the main ingredients are exactly the same – understand the original, put it accurately and clearly in another language.

  2. Amen! Humility toward others and the Word are indeed the markers of genuine faith. Good word of caution for us Ed. Thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to think is firmly discouraged in Scripture. It is an amazing mark of our pride that we can be prideful in relationships about our perspectives and opinions about a translation of THE BOOK that declares God hates pride. Open our eyes Lord….

  3. Pingback: What kind of holy? | Heart Language Observations

  4. Pingback: KJV | Heart Language Observations

  5. Pingback: On this day in 1604 | Heart Language Observations

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