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17344Re: SSNET: Christ - love & obey

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  • Joshua Pennerman
    Jun 8, 2014
      Of course, there never was a "common English" spoken throughout the nation.  Even today, after the leveling effects of a century of radio and television,  when we go beyond England to the UK, all bets are off as to any commonality.  Walking the streets of Belfast, you will hear "house" spoken as hice, or perhaps more exactly, as ha-ees.  "Straight" becomes stree-aht, etc.   In England itself, Yorkshire speech is considered almost a distinct language (in its various dialects), and from Cornwall to  North Cumberland is like going from West Texas to Boston.  In the Elizabethan period, or slightly before, the Gawain poet wrote in a language totally unfamiliar to us.  The Elizabethan language of the KJV is actually the common speech of the London area at that time.  It persists largely today, with the exception of the "thees" and "thous" -- though these may frequently still be heard as well.  Walking the streets of London today, one sees occasionally a distinctly formed female face -- a particular set of the brows and cheek bones -- and one knows exactly what the words will sound like when she opens her mouth to speak.

      It is true that the KJV was a revision of earlier versions -- From William Tyndale to the Bishops Bible to the Geneva Bible, etc.-- and the English language had been going through a rapid and profound set of changes during the previous century   But the KJV freezes the language of the common people (of a certain relatively small part of the nation, geographically) in time, happily a time when the language possessed a natural poetic richness.  This was also a time when the educated class was becoming delighted with the natural local speech, as opposed to the stilted and awkward form of Latin that language had become.  Norman French had long since been discarded, and the local speech had percolated upward into the educated consciousness.  Skakespeare frequently used common street slang in his dramas to great effect.  Such street slang did not make it into the KJV text, but the tone remained in touch with the common people.  As William Tyndale created the modern English language, inventing many figures of speech that we use commonly today throughout the world, The KJV and Geneva Bible together set the tone of English for the next several hundred years.  What was read in the churches became the speech spoken in the fields.

      It is true that people of the theater have never been thought to possess high morals -- from the traveling fairs of medieval central Europe to modern Hollywood.  But that is not reason to exclude Shakespeare from participation in one of the KJV translation committees.  His poetry was recognized, in his time, as superior, he personally was recognized as a smart real estate developer/manager and an accepted member of London's commercial class.  He was at the peak of his powers during the time the KJV was being translated.  His theatrical troupe was a favorite of King James.   Whatever scandal had arisen from his sudden marriage to an already pregnant lady several years older than himself, he grew beyond that and was accepted in polite society.  Beyond that, the KJV translation was not initiated by a bunch of divines on their own initiative.  The work was commissioned -- and financially supported -- by King James, who drew on a broad spectrum of the educated society for the various specialized committees.  He was not particularly concerned about the moral credentials of the participants.  One of his motivations, it has been said, was to diminish or eliminate the influence of the Geneva Bible, which contained in its marginal notes some rather sharp condemnations of homosexuality, and James, known as a flaming homosexual, wanted to eliminate those condemnations for his own sake.  In any case, there have been a number of interesting showings, particularly at various places in the Psalms, of apparent encrypted insertions of Shakespeare's name.

      I think Tyndale's "every boy at the plow" should be read as a metaphor for the common speech, as opposed to educated formulations of the academy (Latin and Greek), which carried forth into the KJV as an effort to write a version which would be universally accessible.  Many modern translations have attempted the same.  Most fail miserably because they neglect the poetic aspect of Bible writing. 

      I am also not particularly entranced by much of the NEB, but I think the translators deserve recognition for their effort to re-introduce a sense of poetry in the Bible too often overlooked by other translations.  For example, their rendition of The Song of Deborah, Judges 5, note verse 11:
          Hark, the sound of players striking up
          in the places where the women draw water!
          It is the victories of the Lord that they commemorate there,
          his triumphs as the champion of Israel.
          Down to the gates came the Lord's people.
      They could just have easily written, "The Lord's people came down to the gates,": but they chose the more poetic way.  This passage also displays one of the glaring weaknesses of the NEB, in that they substituted "players" for the more correct "archers," (»chatsats« relating to shooting arrows) giving a rather distorted sense of what was actually going on here.  Throughout the entire work they take too many liberties with the original text to be really credible as a serious study Bible, but the poetry is fun to read.

      One is reminded of the German equivalent of the Today's English Version -- Die Bibel in heutigem Deutsch -- which presents a wonderfully poetic version of the Song of Solomon, quite unrelated to the original text.  ( I don't have a copy of the TEV for comparison.)  By contrast, the Santa Biblia of Reina-Valera presents a very nice poetic aspect without running away from the underlying text, more accessible, I think, than the KJV

      As noted elsewhere -- there will never be a perfectly adequate translation of the Bible, and we cannot expect every Christian to master the original languages, but we do the best we can, and we keep trying to do it better.  For me, the KJV, and its immediate predecessor, the Geneva Bible, present high points in the long task, not to be too quickly discarded.

      Facts are stubborn things.  John Adams
      What we think, or what we know, or what we believe is, in the end, of
      little consequence. The only consequence is what we do." -- John
      On 6/7/2014 3:42 AM, Tony Zbaraschuk wrote:
      On Thu, Jun 05, 2014 at 09:47:24AM -0400, Joshua Pennerman wrote:
      > Why did the KJV translators write Elizabethan English?  Because
      > they were Elizabethans.  They lived in the Elizabethan period and
      > wrote in the common language of their day -- which happened to be
      > one of the high points in the development of the English language
      > in terms of poetic expression.

      The KJV isn't quite common English of its period; it's a revision
      of earlier translations, and it was deliberately made a little
      statelier and more formal, a little more archaic (one of the instructions
      to the translators was to alter the old wording as little as possible).

      > It is true that there is a certain uniformity to their style.  It
      > would have been nice to have reflected the differences in the
      > language between, for example, Judges 4 and Judges 5,  to show off
      > the delightfully archaic nature of the Song of Deborah.  That song
      > somehow got preserved in a more archaic form of Hebrew than is
      > found in most of the rest of the OT -- a little bit like putting a
      > few stanzas from Edmund Spenser into a Shakespearean play. 

      Or maybe like Shakespearean English in a 20th-century TV show.
      Some people can pull this off (e.g., Winston Churchill), but
      not everyone can.

      > However, to their credit, most of the translators were natively
      > literate in Greek and Latin, and pretty good in Hebrew.  They were
      > an educated lot, and there were poets among them, rumored to
      > include even Shakespeare himself,

      Given the general tendency among divines of the time to regard actors
      and everyone associated with them as something loose, licentious,
      dangerous, and revolting, I doubt that Shakespeare was involved --
      but certainly he and the translators shared quite a bit of knowledge
      and style and the spirit of their world.

      > and the overall result is more
      > poetic than is usually given credit for.
      > Note the relative poetic value of the KJV vs., for example,
      > Peterson's "The Message."

      <snip comparison I largely agree with>
      > Except for one line, so flat and lifeless it would be embarrassing
      > to read out loud in public.

      It might work in private devotion, though, at least for its intended

      > Not all modern translations are that bad.  The New English Bible
      > makes a good try at poesie, often failing rather broadly, largely
      > perhaps because of the general poetic weakness of contemporary English,
      > but its rendering of the love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, may be the
      > best yet in the English language.

      I may have to take another look at that, but usually the NEB gives
      me hives when I try to read it.
      > Because the KJV was meant to be read out loud, at a time when
      > reading out loud was an art unto itself, it carries an inherent
      > elegance and power that I think has never been matched in any
      > subsequent Bible translation.

      Generally granted, but elegance and power are things that exist in
      the hearer's mind as well as in the translation (or, more correctly,
      in the interface between the two).  The Elizabethans were more
      accustomed to that sort of language and style, but no style works
      if you're not familiar with it, if you aren't trained to it.  This
      is as true of modern slang as it is of Shakespeare's plays.

      Tyndale wanted to make sure that "every boy at the plow" could
      know Scripture.  We need to keep that in mind: if the masses
      don't respond to it, it _doesn't matter_ how good the prose is,
      or the poetry.  The orator must consider the audience, as well
      as the text.

      > That is a separate issue from textual and doctrinal accuracy. 

      Yes.  We do need to keep the issues separate.

      > But in these respects the KJV fares no worse on average than most
      > modern translations. 

      Well, except for the part where we know a lot more about the Greek
      and Hebrew of the time, and about the Biblical texts, than the KJV
      translators did.  There's a lot of detail work in this, and I think
      the issues are sometimes overblown, but there _are_ differences.
      I could wish that modern translators would pay more attention to
      readability and style than they do, though.

      > Being for the most part "dynamic," the newer translations often
      > substitute the theological biases of their translators for the
      > actual text in an attempt to make the text "more readable," so what
      > their "more readable" Bible says is often not what the Bible
      > writers meant.

      I don't think the KJV translators were entirely immune from that
      sort of bias, either.  This is why it's usually a good idea to
      compare translations and see if you can see what they were aiming
      at.  And why we train pastors and theologians to read the text in
      the original languages.

      But we can't allow the necessary inadequacies of translation to
      stop us from preaching, and teaching, and studying, the Word of

      Tony Zbaraschuk  

      Love is a garden that needs regular watering, and weeding,
      but produces all sorts of unexpected delights and surprises.

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