Saturday, March 5, 2011

The King James Bible

Arguably the most significant literary work in the English language celebrates its 4ooth anniversary in 2011. Of course, I refer to the publication of the King James Version of the Bible. It has influenced our language in ways that many do not realize. It may surprise some to realize that this Bible translation is responsible for phrases still used today: “skin of your teeth,” “apple of my eye;” “cast the first stone,” and a “two- edged sword,” among many others.

It is unfortunate that the anniversary of this great translation is not given the accord that it is due, at least among some of my evangelical brethren. I recall last year that significant celebration went into the recognition of Calvin’s 500th birthday. Many of us read through his Institutes together and enjoyed numerous articles and blog posts examining his contribution to systematic theology. I do not see the same level of celebration for the KJV.

I think that part of the reason for this is that this great translation has become a polarizing factor in some parts of the Christian world. On the one side stand the “King James Only” adherents who cast all manner of scorn and abuse on any translation of the Bible that is not KJV. For many of them, the KJV is the only trustworthy Bible in existence today. All subsequent attempts at translation derive from flawed documents wielded by unspiritual men who have an insidious agenda: dilute, distort, and destroy the pure Word of God.

On the other side stand the champions of modern language translations. They promote versions that are known by an almost endless list of initials: RSV, NRSV, ASV, NASV, NASB, NAS, NCV, LB, NLT, NKJV, ESV, TCV, NIV, TNIV, MESS, HCSB; and I think I am omitting some. Some of these new translation zealots take a condescending tone toward those who still prefer the KJV. To them, anyone still reading from the KJV is a hayseed that needs to be enlightened for his own good. It is almost a Gnostic attitude.

Thus, in the words of Buffalo Springfield on their debut album that I was not permitted to play in my dorm room in the fundamentalist college I attended, “The battle line’s being drawn. Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.” It’s like saying something good about Richard Nixon because he brought an end to the Vietnam conflict and opened China to US trade – but he was still Richard Nixon.

Let’s not let this infighting prevent us from paying homage to a great translation of the Bible. Yes, it is a great translation in many ways. I may have more to say later.

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