Hannan on the King James Bible
0 comment Saturday, November 1, 2014 |
Well, why not resume my regular blog posts with a topic that is certain to be elicit sharply differing responses: Daniel Hannan -- who is himself controversial even on the right, expresses his opinion that the King James Bible is the greatest translation of all time.
I agree with him.
First, though, every time I make a reference to Hannan, someone will chime in that he is not on our side, not to be trusted, etc. I know his flaws and I may not agree with everything he says but he is right about many things. And he expresses himself with a clarity that is refreshing, especially by contrast with our forked-tongued American politicians and talking heads.
As for his high view of the King James Bible, that is, today, a controversial subject among Christians, and even non-Christians seem to feel strongly about it. There was a time when the King James Bible was THE version of the Bible for English-speaking people, although there have been others held in high regard, such as the Geneva Bible, which was the preferred translation for the Puritan fathers in this country. Actually the two versions seem very close, being both of them based in large part on the translation by Tyndale.
For being a partisan of the KJV, I have at least once been accused of 'bibliolatry', of worshipping a book rather than the Living God, which I think is a rather over-the-top accusation. To prefer that translation and to believe it inspired is not 'worship'. Tellingly, my liberal friend has used that same term as some of the conservative Christians who are negative toward the King James version.
So there are those who ridicule pro-KJV Christians, and then there are those who assert that 'the only way to get the real thing is to learn Koine Greek and Hebrew; the translations are flawed.' The fact is most people do not know Koine Greek and are not likely to learn it. Are we then left without a true version of the Bible, being deficient in ancient languages? Apparently so, according to these people. Apparently only the learned and the intellectually superior, then, can really read the Bible, since translations are not reliable.
Oddly the people who claim that all the existing translations are inadequate or flawed are often the people who claim that the latest 'modern' version is the best yet. The problem with that is that there are umpteen versions now, and new translations coming out every other day, it seems. That trend looks like going on indefinitely. It must be a profitable business for a number of people, this constant re-translating of the Bible and selling all the many new copies. And now of course there are Bibles aimed at every demographic. There are those hip new Bibles written in slangy modern American English, with some kind of trendy-looking covers to appeal to the young: Bibles covered in denim, or in Gothic-looking black, with fashionable typography. Then there are the Bibles especially for women, for blacks, for mothers, for dads.
It's all about packaging. But I've read through many of these upstart translations, and I find them to be lacking. The translations may have shed the archaic, old-timey style of the King James, but they are written in colorless, dull prose. The phrasings are often clumsy and awkward. They are flatfooted and unmemorable. Whatever you may say of the King James, it is written in a way that stays in the mind. Perhaps it's gone out of style to memorize Scripture, but it is infinitely easier to remember whole passages from the KJV than to learn and retain the same passages in the insipid prose of one of the newfangled translations.
Style, of course, is not all that matters -- though it does help to remember and retain the Scriptures, and it does add to the pleasure of reading. What matters is that with the more modern translations, somehow key meanings are changed, and it is just coincidental, I am sure, that certain passages having to do with homosexuality, for instance, are translated differently. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 6:9, the references to homosexuals are changed in certain versions to 'homosexual offenders' or 'prostitutes', in other words, homosexuality in and of itself is suddenly not condemned.
The newer versions, written by committees of 'scholars' with appropriately PC views, often subtly, or not-so-subtly, alter the passages which are not acceptable to 21st century sensibilities. Politics, consciously or not, affects the changes that are made.
And in the quest for a 'perfect translation', have these 'improvers' in fact undermined for all time the idea that Scripture is inspired and not subject to a consensus, and not to be re-written every time fashions change, to suit the times?
If we admit that 'errors were made' in the KJV then errors have been made in all other translations, too, and will be made in every proposed new version. I suppose this does not really matter in that most professing Christians these days do not believe that Scripture can be inspired or inerrant, or that God can preserve it.
Hannan's piece is about the superior style of the King James Version, its greatness as literature. There was a time when in English literature classes, the KJV was studied as literature. I remember one of my college English lit professors including the Book of Job as one of the greatest pieces of literature in our language. But that is not PC today; I expect the Book of Job is replaced in the curriculum by something by one of the black female writers.
Regardless of whether we like or prefer the King James Bible, or even know it, we have all heard phrases and words from it; it is part of our linguistic heritage just as is Shakespeare. Of course to a Christian it is more than just another well-written book, and much more than a museum piece.
I didn't even read the comments at Hannan's blog; I looked at the first few and it appears that there are the usual detractors and scoffers along with a few pedants. I'd rather not read it; it would only leave me feeling more discouraged about the state of our post-Christian and post-Western world. And right now I need something more encouraging.
Hannan finishes his piece with this rather odd paragraph:
The English and their kindred peoples are, in my experience, rather less spiritual than Arabs, and it would not occur to them to make an equivalent claim. None the less, the Authorised Version stands as perhaps the greatest translation of all time. The day will eventually come when our power dwindles, and all our pomp of yesterday is one with Nineveh and Tyre. But as long as English is spoken, and our canon preserved, ours will never be just another country.''
The Arabs more 'spiritual' than we are? I am not so sure about that. And if the English-speaking countries are consigned to the dustheap of history, to use the cliché, then the KJV will not outlive us because those who will inherit the earth will discard it, along with all of our heritage. There will surely be a dark age if the West and especially the Anglosphere falls.

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