It’s all there

Because I’m a Bible translator, so I do strange things. For example, I actually read the prefaces to Bible translations. The preface usually addresses how and why the translation was done The original preface to the King James Version deals mostly with criticisms and objections. For example, the King James translators tackle the perennial question “Why on earth are you guys doing yet another translation? Of course, the question was phrased more eloquently in that day.

I’m interested in a different question – is a translation the Word of God? Purists say that they are not: that in order to truly read the Word of God one has to read the Bible in the languages in which it was first written. The King James translators reject that point of view. They wrote:

… we affirm and avow, that the very meanest translation of the Bible in English set forth by men of our profession containeth the word of God, nay, is the word of God: as the King’s speech which he uttered in Parliament, being translated into French, Dutch, Italian, and Latin, is still the King’s speech, though it be not interpreted by every translator with the like grace, nor peradventure so fitly for phrase, nor so expressly for sense, every where.

So they maintained that every English translation is the Word of God even if it is not a particularly good translation. (I’m sure that they would not have included fraudulent translations.)

A colleague of mine addressed a similar question:

A common assumption about reading the Bible in the original languages is that by “reading the Greek” we’re actually finding out information that isn’t available to people who are reading a translation.

He rejects this idea. He points out that a person needs a very deep knowledge of Greek to get more out of it. In fact, a doctoral level is needed. Those translating the Bible into English have spent their lives studying the original languages. Unless we are willing to put in that same investment, we’re better off piggybacking on their knowledge by reading their translations.

If you are reading any of the major Bible translation, you are reading the Word of God. You are not missing out. God is not hindered in any way in guiding, instructing, or encouraging you through that translation.

Page from first printing of the King James Version of the Bible

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.