Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Happy Birthday KJV

The King James Version of the Bible is 400 years old. The Oxford English Dictionary and the BBC have been celebrating this milestone, and tracing the influence of the KJV on the English language.

Although I have been brought up reading the KJV, in my personal readings I often prefer to use more recent translations such as the RSV or the NEB (for) (against). CS Lewis agreed - it's helpful to read the Bible in an accessible and contemporary linguistic setting. After all, Koine Greek (the language of the original New Testament manuscripts) was the vernacular. Again, William Tyndale (the pioneer of English Bible translation) wanted the ploughboy in the field to be able to understand the words of Scripture. So I feel a modern translation is following an age-old (and theologically sound) precedent.

Often I feel slightly embarrassed quoting Bible passages directly from the KJV, especially to people who are unfamiliar with the style. I generally paraphrase as I go - turning "whosoever believeth" into "whoever believes", "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God" into "You shall love the Lord your God" etc.

So it was interesting to listen to various media, thespian and religious celebrities expressing their admiration for the majestic and simple language of the KJV, in the recent BBC Radio 4 broadcasts. I enjoyed listening to the various readings, which were spoken with clarity, passion and a suitable level of dramatic emphasis.

However when I reflected on the comments people made about the KJV, I was struck by the fact that people extoll its virtues as literature, influential upon the development of the English language. However they appear to give little thought to the underlying message of the Bible. Things haven't changed much since Ezekiel's day - we are quite prepared for cultural, high-brow entertainment from the Bible, but we don't want the sharpness of its message to pierce our hearts. What a tragedy! Let's get back to the Bible and read it "as it is in truth, the word of God". [1 Thess 2:13]