Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: King James Version

Some clarifications and an illustration

The Bible translation produced in 1611 was never given an official name. In England, Scotland and many other places it is referred to as the Authorized Version, but that name does not appear in the Bible itself.

The text now in common use dates from 1789. Typographical errors had crept into the various printed versions. Spelling of some words had changed, for instance in Old English a u was often used where we use a v, and sometimes a v where we would use a u. This was not a revision of the text, but a standardization of spelling and punctuation plus some modernization of spelling.

The text of this Bible is not copyright, except in England and Scotland. In England the copyright is a royal prerogative granted to Cambridge University Press and Oxford University Press. In Scotland it is Collins. The royal prerogative is more meant to guard the integrity of the text than to diminish competition.

I use two electronic Bible programs. The Online Bible, based in Canada with a European branch in the Netherlands, is the oldest. The other is e-Sword, based in the USA. Both apps are free and offer a multitude of Bible translations and supplementary material. The Online Bible offers the Authorized Version and includes the marginal notes in italics after the relevant verse. The e-Sword offers the King James Bible and the marginal notes are an option that one can download and they will appear in a window beside the text.

The marginal notes with alternate readings are not plentiful. There is no question about the text of most of the Bible. But there are places where the alternate reading should cause us to stop and reflect on what we may have assumed to be unquestionable fact.

To illustrate this, I will begin with the account of Jephthah in Judges 11 and 12. Children’s Bible Story books, Egermeier’s for example, try so hard to assure children that it was wrong for Jephthah to offer his daughter as a burnt offering that they have convinced generations of people that Jephthah was a horrible man who killed his daughter and got away with it. If that were true, it would make it kind of hard to trust the mercy a and righteousness of God.

We really shouldn’t need the marginal readings to tell us that there is something wrong with this version of Jephthah’s story. God used Jephthah to deliver Israel from the oppression of the Ammonites and then he judged Israel for the next six years until his death. Many years later, when Israel demanded a king, God told them that whenever they had been oppressed He had provided a deliverer, giving a short list of Jerubbaal (Gideon), Bedan, Jephthah and Samuel (1 Samuel 12:11). In the New Testament he is included in the list of the heroes of the faith (Hebrews 11:32).

Human sacrifice was anathema to God, how then can this man be named in the Bible in several places as a great man of faith, with never a hint of condemnation? Do you think perhaps the story books got the story wrong?

A close look at the account in Judges will show that it is never said that he offered his daughter as a burnt offering. Judges 11:39 says he “did with her according to the vow which he had vowed.” What was that vow? Verse 31 says “whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house . . . shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” The marginal note says “or I will offer it.” A little more study reveals that there is no conjunction in the Hebrew text, one is needed for coherence in English, so the translators offered us a choice of and or or.

The end of chapter 11 tells us that it became a custom for the daughters of Israel to go once a year “to lament the daughter of Jephthah.” The reading in the margin is “to talk with.”

Here is what Adam Clarke says in his Commentary about Judges 11:40. To lament the daughter of Jephthah. “I am satisfied that this is not a correct translation of the original. Houbigant translates the whole verse thus: ‘But this custom prevailed in Israel, that the virgins of Israel went at different times, four days in the year, to the daughter of Jephthah that they might comfort her.’ This verse also gives evidence that the daughter of Jephthah was not sacrificed; nor does it appear that the custom or statute referred to here lasted after the death of Jephthah’s daughter.”

The real story here is that Jephthah sacrificed any hope of posterity (the daughter was his only child) in order to deliver God’s people from their oppressors. The daughter spent two months bewailing her virginity, the fact that she would never bear children. Then she was dedicated to the service of the tabernacle, much as Samuel was later.

Leviticus 27 gives detailed information for the redemption of a child when the father had made a vow. Both Jephthah and Samuel’s parents could have availed themselves of this provision, yet they had vowed to dedicate their child to the actual service of God, but certainly not as a burnt offering.

Why I do not read the King James Bible

I read the Authorized Version instead, of which Cambridge University Press is the main publisher. The text is identical to that in Bibles that are called the King James Version, except that the AV maintains the alternate marginal readings that were placed there by the translators 400 years ago.

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I suppose that if we would meet the members of the company of translators who produced the AV, we might find their manner of dress far too extravagant to consider them to be humble men. But if we can look past the clothing, we may see that they were far more humble than any who have come after them. They believed they were handling the Word of God and they had a holy fear of inserting their own opinions or preferences into the translation. Thus, when they came to a word or phrase that might be translated more than one way, they did not feel that they had a right to choose one over the other. They placed one in the text and the other in the margin. These marginal notes they considered to be an integral part of their translation.

The custom of calling this translation the King James Version originated in the USA. Our American friends do not seem to have had the same humility as the translators, as I don’t believe the marginal readings can be found in any KJV printed in the USA. There are plain text printings of the KJV with no notes at all, but in many editions they have inserted other notes, producing a great variety of reference Bibles that are of dubious usefulness and trustworthiness.

I am reprinting below an abridged excerpt from the long introduction to the Authorized Version which explains their reasons for placing alternate readings in the margin. You will notice that they did not believe there to be any confusion in things essential to our salvation, but felt that where there were different possible renderings we should seek the assistance of God’s Spirit by prayer and the aid of our brethren by conference.

Reasons moving us to set diversity of senses in the margin,
where there is great probability for each.

Some peradventure would have no variety of senses to be set in the margin, lest the authority of the Scriptures for deciding of controversies by that show of uncertainty should somewhat be shaken. But we hold their judgement not to be so sound in this point. For though whatsoever things are necessary are manifest, . . . yet for all that it cannot be dissembled, that partly to exercise and whet our wits, partly to wean the curious from loathing of them for their everywhere plainness, partly also to stir up our devotion to crave the assistance of God’s Spirit by prayer, and lastly, that we might be forward to seek aid of our brethren by conference, and never scorn those that be not in all respects so complete as they should be, . . . it hath pleased God in His divine providence here and there to scatter words and sentences of that difficulty and doubtfulness, not in doctrinal points that concern salvation, (for in such it hath been vouched that the Scriptures are plain) but in matters of less moment, that fearfulness would better beseem us than confidence, . . . it is better to make doubt of those things which are secret, than to strive about those things that are uncertain. There be many words in the Scriptures which be never found there but once, (having neither brother nor neighbour, as the Hebrews speak) so that we cannot be holpen by conference of places. Again, there be many rare names of certain birds, beasts, and precious stones, &c., concerning which the Hebrews themselves are so divided among themselves for judgement, that they may seem to have defined this or that, rather because they would say something, than because they were sure of that which they said. . . . Now in such a case, doth not a margin do well to admonish the reader to seek further, and not to conclude or dogmatize upon this or that peremptorily? For as it is a fault of incredulity, to doubt of those things that are evident, so to determine of such things as the Spirit of God hath left (even in the judgement of the judicious) questionable, can be no less than presumption. Therefore . . . diversity of signification and sense in the margin, where the text is not so clear, must needs do good, yea, is necessary, as we are persuaded . . . They that are wise, had rather have their judgements at liberty in differences of readings, than to be captivated to one, when it may be the other.

Three keys to getting the most out of reading the Bible

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Read it like a story book, not a recipe book

A cook will pick up a recipe book and look for the type of dish he wants to make. The recipe will list all the ingredients and provide all the instructions needed to prepare that dish. Some folks try to use the Bible in the same way, taking a short passage and trying to find what it says about how to live their Christian life that day. Was that passage meant to be read that way, separated from the context in which it is found? I don’t think so.

A story book will introduce a number of characters, but the story will centre on one of them. We learn to know that person’s character and will come to feel and care about what he or she feels. God is the central character of the Bible. Each time we read a book of the Bible all the way through we get to know Him a little better. We understand what is important to Him, what He really cares about, how He can hate sin, yet be compassionate to the sinner.

The reason He finds sin so distasteful is because it is so harmful to us. He has made a way that we can be forgiven and no longer be controlled by the power of sin. When we make a mistake He does not berate us, but wants to help us go on again. When we meet God outside of the Bible, we find Him to be exactly the person we have been reading about.

Read the Authorized Version, not the King James Version

This is said tongue in cheek, they are almost the same Bible, but not quite. Lancelot Andrews and the other translators of the Bible first published in 1611 were humble men who did not think it was up to them to settle every question of meaning. Thus, when there was not agreement on the meaning of certain words, one meaning would be placed in the text and the other in the margin. Here are the translators’ words of explanation:

“It hath pleased God in His divine providence here and there to scatter words and sentences of that difficulty and doubtfulness, not in doctrinal points that concern salvation, (for in such it hath been vouched that the Scriptures are plain) but in matters of less moment, that fearfulness would better beseem us than confidence. There be many words in the Scriptures which be never found there but once, (having neither brother nor neighbour, as the Hebrews speak) so that we cannot be holpen by conference of places. Now in such a case, doth not a margin do well to admonish the reader to seek further, and not to conclude or dogmatize upon this or that peremptorily? For as it is a fault of incredulity, to doubt of those things that are evident, so to determine of such things as the Spirit of God hath left (even in the judgement of the judicious) questionable, can be no less than presumption.”

The translation of 1611 has no official name but is known in most of the English-speaking world as the Authorized Version. This does not mean that it was ever an official version, or required to be read in the churches of England, simply that King James I of England authorized the formation of a committee to do prepare a new translation.

It is in the United States of America that the name King James Version has been popularized, as though the king himself did the translating. And as far as I have found, all the Bibles calling themselves King James Bibles omit the marginal notes place there by the translators. The notes are few, but they do accomplish the purpose stated by the translators. They considered these notes to be an integral part of the Bible and in my mind they are of far greater value than the notes that are substituted in so-called “Study Bibles” or “Reference Bibles.”

Read it out loud

If you look at the title page of AV (or KJV) Bibles, you will find the words: “Appointed to be read in churches.” Do not misconstrue “appointed” to mean “commanded.” In 1611 the word meant “arranged.” The wording of the AV was carefully arranged for reading out loud.

In 1611 many people could not read, and many of those who could read would not have been able to buy a copy of the complete Bible. The translators kept this in mind as they worked, carefully choosing words and sentence structure that would impress themselves upon the listeners in such a way that the words would stick in their minds. For the final editorial review of the translation, the leaders of the individual committees assembled around a table and one would read. If any passage did not sound right to one of the others around the table, he would raise his hand. The reading would stop and they would rework the passage until all were satisfied that it best conveyed the meaning of the original text in the most effective English words.

That carefulness on the part of men who were masters of both the ancient languages and of English produced a Bible that is still by far the easiest to memorize. The majority of the words are words of one syllable and they are arranged in a cadence that is pleasing and striking to the ear. Newer versions may be easier to understand in places, at the cost of some depth of meaning, but sound so flat as to be difficult to remember. What’s the point of trying to memorize them anyway? They will be replaced in a few years by another, newer and “better” version. I’m afraid that something of great value is lost in these new versions.

Verily, verily

The English of the AV, or KJV, translation was not the same as the English commonly spoken 400 years ago. The words were carefully selected to first of all be a true representation of the text in the original languages and secondly, to convey that truth in simple words arranged to have the greatest imapct on the mind and memory when read aloud.

No other translation has the same adhesive quality. No other tranlation lends itself so readily to memorisation. No other translation uses so many one syllable words, yet arranges them in such a powerful poetic form.

American writer Jon M Sweeney pays tribute to this quality of the KJV in his book, Verliy, Verily. The KJV — 400 years of influence and beauty. (© 2011 by Jon Sweeney, published by Zondervan) Here are a few excerpts from the conclusion of the book:

“The English that we speak at work or the dinner table is often the same English we speak at church. It wasn’t always so, however. The KJV offers a language that is slightly outside of everyday experience, which expands our capacity to contemplate, see, and know God. Before the modern era . . . Christian English-speakers were basically bilingual — everyday Englsh and KJV English existed side by side.

“Many Christians today feel vaguely homesick, like people in exile. . . . We long to hear the rhythms of the King James Bible once again, the rhythms that call us back to a place where we can stand in the dark beneath the canopy of the heavens and gaze into the unknown.

“When this happens — when we begin to discover or rediscover the King James Bible — our hearts and minds and imagination begin to expand. I think back to more than a year ago when I decided to begin readi9ng from page 1 in my newly purchased KJV. . . .

“Above all, I began to wonder and imagine in the words of the Bible once again. I found myself hearing God’s voice, and hearing it in different ways and in new places.

“May you do the same.”

 

Appointed to be read in churches

The above notation appears on the title page of the Bible translation known in the USA as the King James Version and almost everywhere else as the Authorized Version.  The words are an introduction to one of the goals of the translators — they wanted this to be the best possible translation for reading aloud.

The translators were men of great scholarship.  Lancelot Andrewes, Bishop of Winchester and director of the Company of Translators, was fluent in twenty-one languages, fifteen modern and six ancient.  He was considered the greatest preacher of his time, a Lord of the church, yet he spent five hours in prayer every morning, with penitential tears confessing his great unworthiness.  It was because of men like Lancelot Andrewes that a translation such as the AV was possible four hundred years ago and is probably not possible in our day.

Accuracy of translation was considered essential, but that was not enough.  After each company of translators had finished their work, two men from each of the six companies were chosen to sit together as a review committee to bind it all together.  They came with copies of the Hebrew, Greek and Latin Scriptures and translations in other languages: French, Italian, etc.  The translation was read aloud, sentence by sentence, while all listened intently to judge the accuracy and the aptness of the words, all the while keeping in mind how it would sound to the common people in the pews.  If something did not sound quite right to one of them, he would speak up and the passage would be adjusted until all were satisfied.

The result is a Bible that retains as much as possible the essence of the wording in the original languages, yet speaks majestically in a simple English.  The language is not the English that was commonly spoken in that day; it is a reverent language meant to convey the holiness of the subject matter.  It is remarkable how much of this translation is done with words of one syllable, yet those words are arranged into a cadence that captures the attention of the ear, mind and heart of the hearer.

It is by far the easiest translation to memorize.  That was the intention.  Many people were either unable to read or unable to afford to buy a Bible in that day.  The words read in church from this translation stuck in their minds and had an impact on the thoughts and intents of their hearts.

Modern translations claim to be more accurate, or easier to read, or both.  Yet they sound singularly flat when set side by side with the words of the AV.  The insipid nature of these translations, and the constant introduction of new and “better” translations, militate against Scripture memorization in our day.

The original long preface of the AV described the purpose of translation in these words:

“Translation it is that openeth the window, to let in the light; that breaketh the shell, that we may eat the kernel; that putteth aside the curtain, that we may look into the most Holy place; that removeth the cover of the well, that wee may come by the water.”

This is what the AV has done for generations of English-speaking people.

Tips for studying the Bible

1.    Read it.

This is so obvious that I shouldn’t have to say it, yet I am constantly amazed at the number of people who don’t get much out of the Bible because they jump from one place to another, only reading little snippets here and there.

The first step in understanding the Bible is to read it from cover to cover.  Don’t rush, read a chapter a day, or less if the chapter is long.  It should take four years to get through the whole Bible.  You don’t have to start with Genesis and read straight through to the end of Revelation, though it’s a good idea to do that once or twice in a lifetime.  But wherever you start, read one full book of the Bible before going on to another one.

As you continue reading, you will find that the Bible explains itself.  People come up with some bizarre interpretations of Bible verses when they try to understand them apart from their context.  The fact is that you cannot understand anything in the Bible apart from its context.  And you learn to understand the context by reading it.

2.    Don’t put too much trust in commentaries.

Don’t get me wrong, commentaries can be quite helpful in explaining background, context and symbolism.  Just be aware that each commentator has a somewhat different approach.

Matthew Henry is Calvinist (predestinarian) and amillenial.

Adam Clark is Arminian, postmillenial and believes he could have done a much better job of translating the Bible.

Jamieson, Fausset and Brown is Calvinist and premillenial.

Whedon is Arminian, amillenial and believes in a second work of grace.  Don’t take any one of them as the final authority.

3.    Check the meaning of the original Hebrew or Greek word

I’m not talking about becoming a linguist and learning the whole language, though I admire anyone who does it.   But there are times when learning the range of meanings of the original word and the various ways that it has been translated in the Bible will  give a deeper understanding of what is being said.

Electronic Bible programs are great for this.  My favourite is the Online Bible.  It is easy to use, fast, offers numerous translations, a Greek and Hebrew concordance and all kinds of other goodies.  Best of all it is free.  You can find it at  onlinebible.net

4.    Avoid study or reference Bibles

They are a substitute for Bible study, not a help.  People who rely heavily on any of the popular study or reference Bibles often reveal a woeful lack of personal Bible knowledge.  They find it so easy to go to Doctor Jones drive through Bible to find all the verses on a topic, but they never check the context of those verses to see if they really are talking about the same thing.

My favourite Bible (in English) is the Authorized (King James) Version from Cambridge University Press, with centre column references.  There you will often find alternate renderings of a word or a phrase, or a literal translation of the original Hebrew of Greek word.

This practice was introduced by the translators, who felt that when a word or a phrase could be translated in more than one way, and there were more or less equal grounds for each, it was not up to them to decide between the two possibilities.  Thus they placed one in the text and the other in the margin.  Subsequent translators have not had the same humility.

Why I prefer the AV Bible

Critics of the Authorized Version often appear to be more than a little disingenuous.  Some make an issue of minor variations in words and say that Peter, Paul & Jesus did not always quote from the same version of the Old Testament.  It is commonly accepted that Old Testament quotations in the New Testament come from the Septuagint, the Greek translation then in general use, and not from the original Hebrew.  To the best of my knowledge, this was the only version of Scripture quoted by New Testament writers.

Differences between NT quotations of passages from the OT and the actual OT reading in the Authorized Version are simply due to the fact that the OT in the AV is translated directly from the Hebrew, while the NT writers were using the Greek translation.  This also explains the variations in the spelling of names: Joshua, Elijah, Miriam and Jacob in the Old Testament become Jesus, Elias, Mary and James in the New Testament.  There is no great big issue here.

In some cases the divinely inspired writers gave a new meaning to Old Testament Scriptures.  Matthew 2:23 “He shall be called a Nazarene” is considered by commentators to be a reference to Isaiah 11:1, where Messiah is referred to as the “Branch” which in Hebrew is “netser”, combined with an allusion to the OT concept of a Nazarite.  There is obviously a play on words going on here, not an unusual thing in Hebrew.

At least one critic claims that the difference between Nazarene in the New Testament and Nazarite in the Old Testament is a flaw in the AV translation.  But this difference was not created by the AV translators, it exists in the original Greek text.  The critics are really taking issue with the interpretation of the OT by Jesus and the apostles.  There is a greater difference in spelling in English than in some other languages.  In French, the David Martin translation uses Naziréen for both, the Louis Segond translation uses Nazarien and Nazaréen.

Critics point to many cases like this, which they consider to be discrepancies, but which are very minor in nature.  The major issues that many of us have with the newer versions they ignore completely.  They ignore the accusation that all the new translations over the past 150 years have been made from corrupted Greek texts.  They ignore the question of missing phrases and verses in the newer translations.

Another disturbing thought is that the profit motive may be a major reason for the multiplicity of new translations.  A new translation can be copyrighted and earn royalties for years to come.  I doubt that there would be so many translations if it wasn’t for this factor.

The AV translators believed they were dealing with the divinely inspired Word of God and had a godly fear of tampering with it.  Evidently the recent translators do not share that view.   These translations are greatly diminished in meaning and majesty.

Adam Nicolson, in his book about the translation of the Authorized Version, entitled God’s Secretaries, makes the following observations:

“This Bible was appointed to be read in churches (and thus had no illustrations for study at home) and so its meaning had to be carried on a heard rhythm, it had to appeal to what T. S. Eliot later called ‘the auditory imagination’, that ‘feeling for syllable and rhythm, penetrating far below  the conscious levels of thought and feeling, invigorating every word’.”

“The characteristic sound of the King James Bible. . . like the ideal of majesty itself, is indescribably vast and yet perfectly accessible, reaching up to the sublime and down to the immediate and the concrete, without any apparent effort.  The rhetoric of this translation has, in fact, precisely the qualities which this psalm [8] attributes to God: a majesty that is mindful of man.”

“Again and again, the seventeenth century phrases seem richer, deeper, truer, more alive, more capable of carrying complex and multiple meanings, than anything the twentieth century could manage.  It happens in linguistic history that languages lose aspects of themselves, whole wings of their existence withering, falling off, disappearing into the past.  Has it now happened to English?  Does English no longer have a faculty of religious language?”

The AV a trustworthy translation

The people behind new translations of the Bible have convinced a large number of believers that new translations are needed because (a) the discovery of ancient Greek texts of the New Testament provide a more accurate text and (b) changes in the English language make the Authorized Version unintelligible to modern readers.

 According to a large number of serious scholars with knowledge of ancient languages and early church history, the reality is quite different. The highly touted Second Century manuscripts may be the oldest surviving complete texts of the New Testament, but there are thousands of older fragments of the New Testament, and citations in the writings of early church fathers, from which the complete Greek text of the New Testament can be obtained. These earlier texts all support the readings of the Authorized Version. One might surmise that the two ancient manuscripts survived because they were known to be defective and were thus set aside and seldom looked at.

 In all the publicity for the modern translations, it is not often mentioned that they omit many words and quite a few complete verses in the New Testament. This is going much beyond trying to make a more readable Bible.

 The text underlying the Authorized Version, the “Received Text”, was the Bible used by those churches which never accepted the authority of the church of Rome. These were the Greek and Syrian churches, the Waldensians, the early Christians of southern France, the Celtic Christians of the British Isles. The Latin Vulgate of the Roman Catholic Church was based on texts which have a remarkable affinity with the two ancient texts so highly revered by modern translators.

 The following paragraphs are quoted from the conclusion of Philip Mauro’s book, Which Version? Authorized or Revised?, written around 1923. His comments are about the Revised Version of 1881 and the subsequent American Revised Version, but newer translations have taken the changes even further.

 What shall we then say to these things? Shall we accept the R.V. (either the English or American) as a substitute for the A.V.? . . .

 But can we profitably avail ourselves of the R.V. for any purpose? The conclusion to which the facts constrain the writer of these pages is that, conceding that there are improvements (and perhaps many) in the R.V., nevertheless the Greek Text upon which it is based is so corrupt that it is not safe to accept any reading which differs from that of the A.V. until the reader has ascertained that the change in question is supported by preponderant testimony.

 Furthermore, in the important matter of the work of translation we believe it to be the consensus of the best opinion that, in this feature also, the Authorized Version is vastly superior to that of 1881.

And finally, as regards style and composition, the advantage is so greatly with the Old Version that it would be little short of calamity were it to be supplanted by the R.V..

Language Difficulties in the AV

After four centuries the 1611 translation is still unmatched as the purest expression of the Word of God and as the greatest literary masterwork in the English language.  There have been a few shifts in meaning and usage over the years, but they are not many and not difficult to comprehend.  Here are a few points that some people have difficulty with.

Cattle – domestic livestock of any kind.  Sheep and goats were called small cattle.  What we call cattle today were known as large cattle.
Communicate – to share, to give
Conversation – a person’s manner of living.
Conversant among – living among
Corn – grain of any kind.
To let – to hinder or prevent.
Meat – food of any kind.
Offense, offend – translations of the noun and verb forms of Greek skandalos – a stumbling block, to cause to stumble.
Ouches – sockets in which precious stone are set.
Outlandish – foreign.
Pottage – a broth (because it was made in a pot.
Privy – secret.
Privy to – to know what is secret.
Schoolmaster – translation of Greek pedagogos – originally a slave used to protect children on their way to school, and a disciplinarian to make sure they did go to school.  In English usage the headmaster of a school supervised and disciplined the students.  It does not mean a teacher.
Seethe – boil.
To wit – to know. wot and wist are past tense forms.

Thee, thou, thy, thine – second person singular pronouns, no longer used in current English, having been replaced by the second person plural forms: You, ye, your and yours.
– These singular pronouns were used when addressing one person.  The plural forms, You, ye, your and yours were also generally used as a form of respect when addressing a person of higher rank.  The use by Jesus of the singular pronouns in the Lord’s prayer is an invitation to address God in a personal, intimate manner, as a child who has no doubt of a father’s love.
– Verses such as 1 Corinthians 3:16: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit dwelleth in you?” refer to the church.  Ye and you are plural, referring to many, temple is singular (the temple).  The meaning is the same as in Romans 12:5: “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.”

The subjunctive mood – Educators say there is no such thing in English and hence refuse to teach it.  Nevertheless, we use it all the time, whether we know it or not.  When we say to a brother or sister in Christ, “May God bless you!” we are using the subjunctive mood.  When we say, “If I were in your shoes . . . “ we are using the subjunctive.
– The subjunctive mood can be best described as an expression of non-reality.  Not unreality, as in something that is impossible, but non-reality as in something that is not presently true, but could be.  In many cases it is an expression that we wish it to be true, as when say “May God bless you” to a brother or sister in the faith.  We cannot make it so, but we wish it to be so.
– Expressions of the subjunctive mood often begin with may or let, but not always.  The first three clauses of the Lord’s prayer, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as in heaven, are all subjunctive.  There is not abundant evidence of God’s will being done on earth, but yet it is our ardent desire that it should be so.
– Sometimes the subjunctive mood is virtually the same as the imperative, as when Pilate was faced with a howling mob, shouting “Let him be crucified!”  (Matthew 27:22 & 23).
– “Let no man despise thy youth” (1 Timothy 4:12) is an admonition to Timothy to conduct himself in such a way that no one would have cause to find fault with him because of his youth.

The language of the Authorized Version of the Bible

Note: In this and future posts, I will refer to the 1611 English translation of the Bible as the Authorized Version, or AV, as this is the name by which it is known in most of the English-speaking world.  In the USA, and to some extent in Canada, it is referred to as the King James Version, or KJV.  Neither name is official, both refer to the fact that King James I of England (King James VI of Scotland) authorized the establishment of a committee to create a new translation.

The aim of the translators was to provide a faithful reading of the original Hebrew and Greek texts, and to do it in words that would be easily understood by young and old, the learned and the unlearned.  They knew that most people of their time would not be able to buy a copy of the Bible to read at home.  They knew, in a way that modern translators do not seem to grasp, that the power of the English language is in the short words.  They produced a Bible that, when it was read from the pulpit, would echo in the memories of the people for days and years to follow.  There is no other English translation that lends itself so readily to memorization.

“Translation it is that openeth the window, to let in the light; that breaketh the shell, that we may eat the kernel; that putteth aside the curtain, that we may look into the most holy place; that removeth the cover of the well, that we may come by the water.”  From The Translators to the Reader, the Preface to the English translation of 1611.

This translation is written at a Grade 5 reading level.  Newer translations which claim to be easier to read are actually more difficult.  Some English words have changed meaning since 1611, but these are fewer than is often claimed.  I will provide a glossary in a future post.

But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus.  Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, No.  And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes.  Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher’s coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea.  John 21:4-7

Adam Nicolson makes this comment on these verses: “Every rhetorical decision is right here.  The first sentence — afloat on ‘now’ — brings an effortless immediacy; we are with the apostles in the boat, with the dawn and the exhaustions of a fruitless night around us. . . . This is a form of writing that is consistently alert to its many purposes.  It translates an alien moment through intelligible description.  It makes that moment quiveringly alive, folding up the space of sixteen or twenty-one centuries.  It is ever conscious of the miraculous nature of what is happening.”

He then quotes a modern translation of the same passage and says, “This is dead, there is no immediacy to it, nothing vibrant. . . . It is a description of an inert normality, mundane, tensionless and mystery-free.  The atmosphere is of a 1930s bathing party.”  © 2003 by Adam Nicolson, from the book entitled Power and Glory (in Great Britain) or God’s Secretaries (in the USA), published by HarperCollins.

The above passage from the Gospel of John contains 112 words, of which 84 are words of one syllable.  Henry Fowler wrote: “But it is a general truth that the short words are not only handier to use, but more powerful in effect; extra syllables reduce, not increase vigour.  This is particularly so in English, where the native words are short, and the long words are foreign.”  H. W. Fowler, Modern English Usage, Second Edition, © 1965, Oxford University Press, page 344.  Here are a few more passages that illustrate the power of the simple language of the AV translation.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.  Psalm 23:4.  (30 words, 26 are words of one syllable)

 Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.  John 18:37.  (52 words, 42 are words of one syllable.)

Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.  Matthew 6:9-13.  (66 words, 49 are words of one syllable.)

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