Monday, September 19, 2011

Practical Reflections Regarding the KJV (7)

Beeke’s 11th reason for retaining the KJV is that it sounds like the Bible. In Beeke’s view this was deliberately aimed at by the translators of the KJV. They aimed for it to sound, in its day, a little old-fashioned, formal, as a way to command a reverent hearing. There is a sense in which this is true. The KJV was not intended to be an entirely new translation, completely separate from those already available. Instead it was to retain the best of them in a revision that would be acceptable to the entire English church. For example, many memorable phrases and verses that we connect with the KJV actually came from Tyndale’s translation, but were retained by the KJV translators.

As with some of Beeke’s other reasons, this reason doesn’t apply only to the KJV. The ESV, the NASB, and the NKJV are all intentionally a little “stuffy.” They are deliberately formal (in addition to following a formal equivalence translation philosophy). They are intended to carry the weight of being a presentation of the Word of God in English.

Beeke further argues that the unbeliever expects the Bible to sound this way. “He expects the church to speak in a way that is timeless and other-worldly.” Again, this can be accomplished without recourse to the KJV. It is true that many of the recent translations sound casual. This springs from two sources. First, it comes from the commitment to a functional equivalence translation philosophy. Second, it comes from a sense on the part of the translators that the reader ought to be able to understand the Bible by himself, as it were, without helps. Thus many of the new translations sound little different from today’s newspapers (except for the fact that newspapers arre not afraid to use technical language). But in this move, the translations lose any real sense of reverence, formality, and timelessness. There was a paraphrase of Paul’s letters that appeared in 1971 titled Letters to Street Christians. It was deliberately written in the idiom of the late 1960’s. Today it is almost incomprehensible, because popular English idiom has changed so much in the intervening forty years.
However, there is a legitimate question as to when “a little old-fashioned” moves beyond the realm of comprehensibility. In Dr. Beeke’s church context, most of the parishioners have been raised on the KJV. Many perhaps use it for their daily Bible reading. Thus, to hear it read from the pulpit causes no difficulty. However, many younger evangelicals coming into Reformed churches have an entirely different experience. They were not raised in church or on the Bible. If they were raised in church, it is often the case that the church they were raised in, or the church they have been attending, has little in the way of Bible reading. Many modern evangelical churches may go through a whole service with no more than a handful of verses being read from the Bible. To sit, then, in a Reformed service where maybe an entire chapter is read from the KJV is to listen to a different language. Yes, to many such people the KJV might sound like what they expect the Word of God to sound like—incomprehensible. For many today, the KJV is not much more comprehensible than the Vulgate was to the contemporaries of the translators of the KJV. Is that what we as pastors want to put on our congregations? It is probably the case that there are still congregations where the KJV as the pulpit Bible works. But my own sense is that those congregations are few and far between.

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