Monday, September 12, 2011

Practical Reflections on the KJV (5)

Beeke’s third point has to do with translation philosophy. The KJV has a “word-for-word” approach (more commonly called formal equivalence today), whereas versions such as the NIV take more of a “meaning-for-meaning” approach. This latter approach was generally called “dynamic equivalence” when the NIV first appeared. But over time it has gotten a bad name. Currently the preference is to call it functional equivalence.

While it is true that the KJV takes a formal equivalence approach to translating the text, that is also true of some modern translations. The NKJV, the NASB, and the ESV all take a formal equivalence approach to translating the text. Thus there is nothing distinctive about the KJV at this point.

Beeke’s fourth point is that the KJV is “a more honest translation.” By this, he means that words not in the original but supplied by the translator have been put in italics. This is not done with the NIV “lest the loose method of its translators be unmercifully exposed to view.” I don’t know if it would be possible to express this point in a more loaded or biased fashion. It is true that interpolated words are not indicated by words in italics in the NIV. The possibility is precluded by the translation philosophy adopted by the translators. I carry no brief for the NIV, but it is less than honest of Beeke to make this a point of contention. The translation philosophy of the KJV (and the NKJV, NASB, and ESV) is amenable to the indication of interpolated words by the use of italics. The translation philosophy of the NIV (and the NLT, NEB, etc., etc.) is not. Beeke’s problem here is not really with italics vs. no italics. His problem is with the translation philosophy. In short, this is not essentially a different reason than number three.

Beeke’s fifth point is that the idiom of the KJV is more precise. By this he apparently means no more than that the KJV indicates the distinction between the second person singular pronouns and the second person plural pronouns (between “thou” [2nd person singular] and “you” [2nd person plural]). On this point, Beeke is absolutely right. Both Hebrew and Greek make distinctions between the form of the second person singular pronoun and the second person plural. The KJV does also, while modern translations do not. I wonder, however, how many readers of the KJV are aware of this, and whether it makes any difference to them as they read. I do wish that there were a way in modern English of indicating the difference between the two. As Beeke says, it is often important. Perhaps modern English versions could adopt “y’all” for the second person plural.

Beeke’s sixth reason for retaing the KJV is that it is “the best liturgical text.” In other words, it is, in Beeke’s opinion, the best for reading in public worship. Maybe. It often depends on who is reading it. I would much rather hear the NIV read well than the KJV read badly. It also depends to a certain extent on the congregation. What version do they have? Do they follow along in the reading in their own Bibles, or do they listen to the version being read. My own preference is that people lay their Bibles aside when the Scripture is being publicly read, and listen to the text that is being read. That way, if there are differences between the version being read, and the version someone in the pew has, the congregant is not distracted by the differences.

I have more to say on the public reading of Scripture, but I’ll visit that at another point in the discussion.

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