Jamesian stew (3): let it flow

I have asserted with conviction that the KJV is inferior to other translations.  I think we all know that, deep down.  Not that it gets everything wrong — far from it — and, arguably, translations that use contemporary language ought to be held to an even higher standard since centuries of text- and text-related discoveries have occurred.  Still, these days, those who use the KJV exclusively may be holding on to something (denominational dogma? archaic wording? sentiment?) that’s not worth holding on to.

Let’s explore this further.

The thing is, Bible study and understanding are not primarily artistic endeavors as in Shakespeare or any number of Renaissance playwrights or poets or Baroque musicians and artists.  If you want to read poetry and glory in the beauty of language, the KJV can help you do that in spots.  I use the KJV that way on occasion, too; such revelry can even lead to worship.  The friend I quoted (a couple of posts ago) also recognized the appeal of this “old English.”

My main point in an older Facebook post — quite separate from a critique of the language of the KJV per se — had been that a parallel KJV-NKJV is a dumb product.  I compared that volume to two sets  of boulders beside a level path.  Maybe the analogy was bad, and I was too verbose in between mentions of the parallel-ness.  The two versions are too much alike; there’s no point in having those two running side-by-side.  A parallel RSV and NRSV wouldn’t be quite as dumb, but still not all that useful a product.  An old friend asked, “What about a parallel The Message and Living Bible?  I replied, in part, “I think the Living Bible‘s usefulness pales in comparison to that of the older Phillips New Testament in Modern English and The Message (and others).  But the LB and Message are different enough that a parallel would be interesting.”

The best bet is not depending on any  single, English translation . . . but rather, using multiple, different  translations, along with other tools, such as interlinear and original-language materials, that can help us exegete the message.

An old friend offered, about the particular parallel KJV-NKJV, “The publishers were merely responding to a ton of customer requests.”  And I appreciated this insight from the Christian publishing industry.  (That friend works in Nashville.)

The friend went further, suggesting that comparing texts can be a waste of time.  I think, on the other hand, that comparing texts can really be helpful!  (M.A., if you happen to see this, please don’t take any offense.  I know it was just a quick FB comment, not a far-reaching statement.  But the more I think about it, the more I want to expand on that part of what you wrote.)  He went on to acknowledge, “One good thing about parallel Bibles is that they (should) help a reader see that all the many translations are just variations on the same truth,” and he capped it off beautifully by saying that our ultimate pursuit should not be “judging scripture,” but rather, allowing scripture to judge us.

I would add that some of us must  judge the translated text . . . so that scripture can more aptly judge us.  Not everyone can or should be a text critic, and I have limited abilities myself, but I’m willing to use what I’ve heard and learned in order to increase the likelihood that we will hear God.  If we had no text critics and no scholars, frankly, we would have no Bibles, and we would not be able to understand and live out as much as we do.

On literary context: https://blcasey.wordpress.com/…/about-literary-context-3/

At this point in history, the King James version should be purged from the shelves.  No one, frankly, should be buying a new KJV unless it’s a prop for a play.  It’s plain silly to acquire one of those when there are better versions . . . not to mention that the KJV is in public domain and freely available electronically via the internet.  If you still have a KJV (and I myself have 2-3 printed copies, plus multiple electronic points of access to it), well, use it if you can, along with others.  But if you’re buying a new Bible, buy something else!

An illustration from music (skip this if you’re not a musician of some variety)
In the art-music world, certain instrumental parts are historically written in keys other than the keys in which the respective, modern instruments play.  For instance, clarinet parts in A sometimes have to be played by clarinet players who only have Bb instruments, so the players must transpose (which is a little like translating!), using completely different fingerings.  Horn parts are similar.  I would contend that non-transposed orchestral horn parts from the 1700s and 1800s should be done away with — systematically, intentionally, over time.  These parts, like the KJV, were great in their time, and they enabled some people to learn the music, but it’s no longer necessary to have the transposition stumbling block in the way.  Today, we have scanners and transposing software and photocopiers that enable better methodologies.

As a horn player, I can transpose most parts at sight, because I learned to do that in the real world of orchestral playing, but that doesn’t mean I “get” the flow of the music as well as when it’s written in my key.  I may only be an A- or B+ transposer, but I can do it better than many.  Still, when I’m transposing, there’s something else to think about, and that something else can get in the way of my comprehension of the musical lines, harmonies, textures, and rhythmic relationships.

Neither can an English Bible reader get the flow of the text as well when using a KJV, as compared to other versions that use more current language.  There’s an obstacle there — a hoop to jump through — when using language that is not my own.

This is why translation is important in the first place — to give the message to the people in a language they can best understand.  Martin Luther, William Tyndale, and others have all had similar goals vis-a-vis  scriptures and the masses; we should carry that forward.  (Do you really think Martin Luther, if living today, would be satisfied with the KJV when he wasn’t satisfied with the Latin Vulgate?  It’s about communicating in the language of the people.)

[To be continued]

One thought on “Jamesian stew (3): let it flow

  1. Brian Casey 02/11/2015 / 7:10 am

    Comments via FB:
    MWB: In defense of the publishers, I don’t think that a KJV/NKJV parallel Bible actively does harm. I just think it’s not terribly useful. If others disagree and want to own one, well, whatever.

    Brian Casey: Point taken. Not a bad thing; just not a useful thing!

    MWB: I spend as much time as I do writing about Bibles, in fact, in the hope that I can guide others to use Bibles that would be most useful for them. However, any Bible that is used is better than any Bible that is not.

    Brian Casey: Resonance here. In the next/final post in my series, I’ve referred to the proverbial Bible on the shelf, saying, of course, that we need to use them!


Please share your thoughts. I read every comment.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.