Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The King James English

As you probably already know (I've made mention before), this year marks the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible. If you have a few minutes, please read this article by Barton Swaim about the significance of that translation. The piece is not so much about recounting the history of the process, as it is about revealing the intentions of the translators.

Before commenting on the article itself, let me recommend to you the magazine, Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, where it's published. My now 2-3-year subscription came as a gift from a good friend and, I must say, the journal keeps getting better and better. Check it out.

Anyway, back to the article. As Swaim points out, among the intentions of the translators was both capturing and preserving what he calls a "religious language":
One of the principal reasons the King James Bible has achieved such astonishing durability is that its diction captures the gravity and splendor one feels God’s words deserve. The Scriptures are old, and the feeling that they should sound old is a natural and proper one. Partly, of course, the KJV sounds old because it is old. But there’s more to it than that. The King James Bible was never what we would call a “modern” translation; even in 1611 it sounded antiquated. The ancient feel of its language was, in fact, largely deliberate.
I don't know about you, but it strikes me that in our no doubt well-meaning attempts to make the Scriptures relevant--Oh how I despise that word--we may have lost something transcendentally important.  God forbid.

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