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Weekly e-Gram for members and friends of Dublin Community Church

May 13, 2011

SOME TLC FOR THE KJV

Last week in my E-Gram, I mentioned the anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible. It is the 400th Anniversary of its publishing, and that is significant. The King James Version (KJV) was the Bible which I first remember, but I note that some of the Bibles I received from my home church as a boy were the Revised Standard Version (RSV), and today we use the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) in our worship.

Confused? Raise your hand if you have never given this version-thing of the Bibles any thought at all. Raise your hand if you thought that the KJV was how Jesus spoke when he spoke to the people in His day. (Or should I say “spake” or “spoketh”?) Did God hand the KJV and all of its Olde English down from a mountain top to…Moses? (and if so, how did Moses get the New Testament hundreds of years before Jesus and His contemporaries walked the earth?)

If you have some time and want to get a grip on all of this…I recommend (as I did last week) God’s Secretaries by Adam Nicolson.

The story of the KJV is quite interesting, and if you do not want to read the Nicolson book… read the following bits of info concerning the book.

The remainder of this E-Gram was not written by me, but by Jim Taylor, an online churchman from Canada whose weekly internet newsletter I subscribe to and thus am permitted to copy and paste for your enlightenment.

Read on… the King James Version of the Bible is a part of the fabric of Christendom and the English language.

THE ALL-TIME BESTSELLER

By Jim Taylor

Four hundred years ago this week, the most influential book in the English language was published.

No, not a Shakespeare play. Not even Shakespeare’s final play, The Tempest, coincidentally also published in 1611 -- although the book in question has spurred its share of tempests.

The book, of course, is the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible.

It has contributed more idioms to the English language than any other text -- over 250, surpassing even Shakespeare.

Like the Council of Nicea, ordered by Roman emperor Constantine to define orthodox Christianity, the King James Bible was a political act. King James I issued clear guidelines -- the new Bible’s wordings must support the evolving traditions of Henry VIII’s breakaway Church of England, and they must not denigrate the monarchy.

For about 350 years, the KJV has been, for millions, the word of God.

A LANGUAGE IN FLUX

Yet even in its day, its language was already archaic. Its “thee” and “thou” pronouns, its verbs ending in “-eth”, were already passing out of use.

Efforts to modernize the KJV’s language have regularly encountered opposition. Even today, after literally dozens of modern translations, a current commentary rails against “modern perversions of the scriptures” as “scurrilous productions” and “imposters... with their missing verses and inserted heresies...”

One devout Christian is reputed to have declared, “If King James’ English was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me!”

He or she might be surprised to realize that even the KJV underwent significant revisions.

When the KJV was first printed, the English language had not yet standardized spelling and punctuation. As printers rushed their own copies of the Bible into publication, compositors made often arbitrary amendments -- such as changing spellings and punctuation -- to simplify line breaks.

Thus one of the versions commands, “Thou shalt commit adultery.”

The editor of Oxford University’s definitive 1769 edition corrected over 1,500 misprints and 24,000 variants in spelling and punctuation.

MIRACLE, BY COMMITTEE

In case you’re still wondering, I do not consider the KJV -- or, indeed, any printed text -- to be the indisputable word of God. (Writes Jim Taylor)

I do consider the KJV a miracle, though. It’s the only instance I know where a committee has produced a masterpiece.

Have you seen any great paintings created by a dozen artists daubing with different brushes? Or a great statue shaped by a handful of sculptors chipping away with chisels? Heard any great symphonies composed by a panel of music experts? Read any gripping novels written by an assembly of literary scholars?

Art -- almost by definition -- flowers or fails in the creative genius of an individual.

In my experience, the surest way to disembowel any piece of prose or poetry is to have a committee edit it.

But with the King James Version, 47 different people, all but one of them professional clergy, working in six separate committees, over seven years, created a masterpiece that has shaped our language for 400 years.

Admittedly, they borrowed heavily from their predecessors, most notably from William Tyndale, a century earlier, burned at the stake for daring to translate Latin scriptures into English.

Christianity Today commented, and I concur, “There is a cadence, a sentence rhythm, in the KJV that has never been matched in other English Bibles.”

Happy anniversary, KJV!

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Copyright © 2011 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups welcomed; all other rights reserved.

And I wish Peace to all!
Rev. Bob Tussing

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