Happy Birthday, KJV!

The KJV will be 400 years old on May 2, 2011.

From a Facebook post:

“In the 14–16th centuries, a controversial question had been dividing nations: should the common man [and woman-W.L.] be able to read God’s Word? It was so incendiary that some people were killed for their translation efforts.”

A video link accompanies the post.

That same controversial question continues to divide people today: should the common man or woman be able to read God’s Word [in the language which they speak and write today]?

7 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, KJV!

  1. Pingback: New Leaven
  2. Wayne Leman says:

    White Man, I’m happy to celebrate both of them, as well as other English Bible translations. I’m also happy to keep encouraging English Bible translators to revise the translations they have made so that they are even better. I do not think we need any more English Bible versions at least for a few more decades until English changes enough to warrant a new translation in the language spoken at that time.

  3. Theophrastus says:

    The claims of martyrdom for translating the Bible almost never stand up to scrutiny — for example, William Tyndale was executed for his publication The Practyse of Prelates which opposed Henry VIII’s divorce; the Lollard John Rogers was executed (under the regime of “Bloody” Mary I) for opposing the authority of Rome and real presence in the sacrament.

    — — —

    In our own times, however, I wonder if Bible translation hasn’t become a much more volatile issue. If I pick up a TNIV, will I be called a heretic? Is the ESV God’s own translation? Did the Holy Ghost personally guide the KJV translators (but the skedaddle out of town for translators for the next 400 years)? Are we to burn a Bible that has the “wrong” translation of Isaiah 7:14? And why won’t the IBS/Zondervan produce a version of the NIV with an Apocrypha?

    — — —

    Claims that the KJV was written in the language of the people are not completely true — the KJV used archaic language at the time of its translation (e.g., “yea verily” was an archaic expression in 1611.) Similarly, the KJV was rejected by the masses for decades, who preferred the traditionalism of the Geneva Bible — the authorities were not able to enforce the ban on importations of the Geneva until the 1660s. (Where was the 450th “Happy Birthday” message for the Geneva last year?) In another thread post, Kurk Gayle points out how conservative the KJV was in relation to Tyndale — and I think he is right in this. Nonetheless, the KJV is significant for being (arguably) the only truly readable translation to be produced by a committee.

    — — —

    One of my biggest complaints with the KJV is that it is too easy to read, too comfortable, too familiar. Its smooth style hides the fact that Bible is a very strange piece of writing. Here I think that great work has been done with translations by Everett Fox and Robert Alter of the Pentateuch — who have given us far greater transparency into the unusual Hebrew of the Pentateuch. This point was emphasized in Charles McGrath’s editorial in the New York Times this weekend.

    When, for example, the NRSV translated Matthew 4:19 as “fishers of people,” it forced us to actually focus on the meaning of the phrase, rather than simply accept what has become a cliche in English (and thus, be somewhat meaningless.)

    The Hebrew Bible in particular is a lively document, not staid and dull after the fashion of most English translations. I think that today, translators such as Alter and Fox stand in the forefront of teaching us that liveliness — much as William Tyndale did for his age.

    A hundred years hence, I have to believe that most current Bible translations will be long forgotten. Nonetheless, I believe we will still remember the innovators — their translations will still be remembered: Tyndale, Lattimore, Fox, Alter, Barnstone. And the KJV will be remembered and read as well — perhaps the only committee translations that will survive for another hundred years.

  4. Theophrastus says:

    I do think we need some more English translations: in the past few years, we have seen specialized translations as The New English Translation of the Septuagint, the Drazin/Wagner translation of Onkelos (entitled Onkelos on the Torah, the Carasik/JPS translation of the Rabbinic Bible (entitled The Commentators’ Bible), ongoing literary translations (for example, Robert Alter just published the latest in his series of translations entitled The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, and a wonderful super-concordant translation by Robert Mounce (published as part of the Zondervan Greek and English Interlinear).

    I think that all of these translations are bringing something new to the table, and should be encouraged.

    Similarly, we’ve seen a wonderful set of new annotated Bibles come out in the last few years. For example, there is a new edition (the 4th edition) in the Oxford Annotated Bible series; and Oxford has published a quite interesting Jewish Study Bible, the 3rd edition of Oxford’s Catholic Study Bible (with the 2011 revision of the NAB) is expected this summer, and Tom Wright’s series The New Testament for Everyone (with his own translation and interesting commentary) is scheduled to be completed this summer.

    So, although we have an awful lot (perhaps too many) Bible translations for congregational use, I think that there is still room for Bible translations (or annotated Bibles) for scholarly, literary, academic, and self-study use.

  5. Theophrastus says:

    Although I have not seen it yet, I am cautiously optimistic about the new Norton Critical Edition of the English Bible (KJV) forthcoming later this year (ISBN 039397507X and 0393927458). Perhaps you are familiar with the Norton Critical Edition series — it is a standard series of annotated volumes used in literature classes. The editors working on these volumes are top-notch, and the blurbs are impressive at least:

    Robert Alter: “The Norton Critical Edition of The English Bible, King James Version, appearing on the four hundredth anniversary of the great translation, is a real gift to the English-reading world, making this classical version freshly accessible. The introductions to the different biblical books are apt and often illuminating; the generous annotation clarifies archaic terms, corrects translation errors, and provides insight into the texts; and the appended critical and historical materials give readers a wealth of relevant contexts for both Old and New Testament.”

    Harold Bloom: “Herbert Marks demonstrates in this work that he is now the foremost literary exegete of the King James Bible and of the Hebrew Bible that it translates.”

    If the work is up to the standard of the better volumes in the Norton Critical Edition series, I expect this will become the standard secular teaching text on the King James Bible, and because of its explanation of archaic terms and phrases, may prove useful for ordinary readers as well.

    (I should mention that additional materials and notes that the Norton Critical Edition of the Writings of St. Paul [ISBN 0393972801] make it the best secular one-volume guide to the subject, although it uses the TNIV translation of the Epistles and Acts and Elliott’s translations [ISBN 0198261810] of the apocryphal works related to Paul.)

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