Friday, September 23, 2011

Reflections Regarding the KJV (8)

Beeke’s twelfth point is that the translators of the KJV were “men of sound religious faith.” He then calls into question the soundness of the religious faith of the translators of modern versions. It is true that the translators of the RSV and NRSV have been people by and large coimmitted to liberal theology. But neither version is used much by evangelicals. It is also doubtless the case that the religious faith of some translators of other modern versions is less than completely sound. But how does Beeke know? Has he met these people? Has he examined the depth and reality of their faith? No. He simply throws out the charge. That’s hardly just, and really is an ad hominem attack on the translators, which is then used to call into question the reliability of the translation. On what basis, for example, would Beeke call into question the soundness of the religious faith of the translators of the NKJV, the NASB, and the ESV? It seems to me that his assertion is special pleading motivated more by a devotion to the KJV than by a devotion to a fair and just evaluation of modern translations.

Another way of putting my complaint with Beeke’s point is this: suppose a number of godly young men were gathered together to produce a translation of the Bible. All of them had had one year of instruction in Greek and one year of instruction in Hebrew. They could no doubt produce a usable translation. But there would be legitimate questions about the quality of the translation, due not to the question of their godliness, but due to their inexperience with the biblical languages.

Beeke’s last point is simply more in the way of ad hominem attacks on modern versions. He says, for example, “This change to new translations was often part of an effort to strip worship services of dignity, reverence, and beauty, in favour of the casual, the contemporary, and the convenient.” How does he know that? How does he know that modern versions were not motivated by a desire for people to be able to read the Bible with understanding? How does he know that new translations were not motivated by a desire to enable people to read the Bible and to hear it read without stumbling over archaic words (take a look at Isaiah 3:18-24 and ask youself if you have any idea what most of those words refer to), and becoming confused by words that have changed in meaning over the last four hundred years (for example, it helps in reading the KJV to know that “prevent” does not mean to stop, or to inhibit, but rather to go before, to anticipate). It is the case that all human projects, even Christian projects, are filled with mixed motives. That is particularly the case when large numbers of people are involved in the project. But Beeke dismisses them all with one sentence. They are really all, to Beeke’s way of thinking, driven by base motives, designing to lead people away from godliness. I ask Beeke to prove the charge. I don’t think he can do it. In all fairness to those who have devoted years of labor to the production of Bible translations that seek to honor God and make his word available in the language  of the people, he needs to stop this sort of attack on the motives of people he doesn’t know. 


K. Hugh Acton said...

You ask how Beeke can view that the design of many modern versions is to strip worship of its dignity: he reads their promotional material. I know it's not true of all versions (the ESV claims the contrary), but very many glory in their vulgarity (I use the word in the old sense) and imprecate the use of "religious" language.

clb said...

In seminary I started the practice of making notes on a book whenever I completed it. In 2008 I read through the KJV and made this note: "Like most Christians, some of my Biblical DNA is coded in the KJV (Psalm 23, Luke 2, etc.) — but I had never read the whole thing through until this year. Used my paternal grandmother’s copy and mused to see her slender notations (virtually nothing more than some dates at the close of some chapters, mostly from 1949 and 50). Having now read the whole, I absolutely puzzle over those quizzical folks who would insist on this version. Quaint in places, obscure in others, and utterly impenetrable in some (requiring the consultation of other translations). I found reading the prophets the most difficult (true of any translation, truer here). It never will (or should) go out of print, but I am thankful for the modern versions for reasons of both texts and translation." I have appreciated your articles on this topic. On the whole, I am surprised how many of Dr. B's points seem to be subjective and aesthetic even trifling (verse format and large print?).