Thursday, March 03, 2011

Praise for The English Bible - 2011

It is a year of praise for the only translation of the Bible into English that can justly be referred to as The English Bible. "After four centuries, the symbolic power of the 1611 Bible remains mighty indeed" writes Boyd Tonkin.

"Today it is a commonplace to note that the words and rhythms of the KJB and its source translations shape the speech of countless millions who never open a bible or enter a church. Somehow, the language of the 1611 version never falls from grace (Galatians 5.4) even if its message falls on stony ground (Mark 4.5). In a secular age where ignorance of religion goes from strength to strength (Psalms 84.7) among lovers of filthy lucre (1 Timothy 3.8) who only want to eat, drink and be merry (Luke 12.19), we know for a certainty (Joshua 23.13) that these resonant words endure as a fly in the ointment (Ecclesiastes 10.1) and a thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12.7) of the powers that be (Romans 13.1). They can still set the teeth on edge (Jeremiah 31.29) of those who try to worship God and Mammon (Matthew 6.24). But does this ancient book, proof that there is no new thing under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1.9), now cast its pearls before swine (Matthew 7.6), and act as a voice crying in the wilderness (Luke 3.4) – a drop in a bucket (Isaiah 40.15) of unbelief, no longer a sign of the times (Matthew 16.3) but a verbal stumbling-block (Leviticus 19.14) or else all things to all men (1 Corinthians 9.22) while the blind lead the blind (Matthew 15.14)?"

A useful indication of its continuing influence upon the language (besides Crystal's "Begat" book) is available here.

James Naughtie's radio series was very worthwhile - he writes here. Another insightful article by Charles Moore is worth extensive quotation (Daily Telegraph, Saturday 27th November 2010: ‘Gove’s sense of the nobility of education offers hope to us all’.)

This week marked the 400th anniversary celebrations [of the King James Bible]. It has often been said – by Winston Churchill and T S Eliot among others – that the King James Bible is the greatest work in the English language, and it is true...Time and chance [sic] found a moment when our language was young yet mature, sprightly yet stately, earthy yet sublime.

But what was the purpose of this enterprise? It was not to produce lovely language for its own sake. It was educational. The translators dedicated their work to King James 1, explaining that it was essential that “God’s holy truth . . . be yet more and more known unto the people” (who, until then, had had no one, permitted, English version). They praised James for “cherishing the teachers” of this truth. They saw what they were doing as a work of national salvation, both in a religious and political sense. The fact that the version is known by the name of an earthly King tells you a lot about its aims.

So the point of this Bible was not only that everyone might study it in private, but also that it was “appointed to be read in churches”, often to those who could not read. It was taught in schools, it was the classic text, the words – the Word, indeed – which people needed to know.

This persisted until the 1960s, and, to a remarkable degree, it worked. Contrary to the claims of the modernists, you did not have to be clever to profit from the King James Version . . . In my own village school, where most of the pupils were the children of gypsum miners and labourers, we read and heard always the King James Version (and the collects from the Book of Common Prayer). No doubt we frequently did not understand it, but only a fool would claim to fully understand the Bible in any version. We benefitted from something that was seriously beautiful and beautifully serious.

All this changed, as it was bound to do. The 1960s saw the production of the New English Bible, which was intended to be relevant. Today, nobody reads it at all: it is – to adapt a King James phrase – perished as though it had never been. It failed, but it succeeded in dethroning the King James Version. Now there are many Bibles, but no known one - a Babel of Bibles, in fact."