Charles McGrath—Why the King James Bible Endures

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The King James Bible, which was first published 400 years ago next month, may be the single best thing ever accomplished by a committee. The Bible was the work of 54 scholars and clergymen who met over seven years in six nine-man subcommittees, called “companies.” In a preface to the new Bible, Miles Smith, one of the translators and a man so impatient that he once walked out of a boring sermon and went to the pub, wrote that anything new inevitably “endured many a storm of gainsaying, or opposition.” So there must have been disputes — shouting; table pounding; high-ruffed, black-gowned clergymen folding their arms and stomping out of the room — but there is no record of them. And the finished text shows none of the PowerPoint insipidness we associate with committee-speak or with later group translations like the 1961 New English Bible, which T.S. Eliot said did not even rise to “dignified mediocrity.” Far from bland, the King James Bible is one of the great masterpieces of English prose.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeChurch History* Culture-WatchPoetry & LiteratureReligion & Culture* International News & CommentaryEngland / UK* TheologyTheology: Scripture

Posted April 25, 2011 at 12:26 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. Pb wrote:

The KJV is an example of English at its prime. It has shortfalls as a translation. Scripture is the Word of God in the words of men. It is not a choice between the actual voice of God and one’s pal as suggested by this piece. The ESV does for today what the KJV did for its day.

April 25, 3:07 pm | [comment link]
2. David Hein wrote:

“The new Catholic missal, for instance, does not seem to fear the forbidding phrase, replacing the statement that Jesus is ‘one in being with the Father’ with the more complicated idea that he is ‘consubstantial with the Father.’”

Hmmmm… Hadn’t heard that. Problem there is that 99% of the people in the pews will not know that “consubstantial” does not mean consubstantial (the way they might immediately think of “sharing substance”) but rather “one in being.” “Substantia” refers not to the substance—the material thingness of an object—but to its invisible essence. Hence: the Thomistic idea that in transbustantiation the substantia of bread and wine changes but not the accidents. But, I don’t know, maybe Roman Catholics are taught all this and do know it. But if my Roman Catholic students are any indication, then the average Roman Catholic won’t be familiar with what “consubstantial” means at all. I always have to translate it as “one in being” or “of one being.” Of course, we could just all say “homoousios” with the Father etc.

Btw, it’s not that one is more “complicated” than the other. It’s that one (“consubstantial”) might be unknown or misleading.

April 25, 5:59 pm | [comment link]
3. evan miller wrote:

For over 300 years the KJV stood virtually unchallenged and vast swaths of the world were brought to Christ by missionaries formed by it.  For some reason, some folks think it is no longer good enough.  Its record, however, speaks for itself.  It will endure because it is the gold standard.  My daily readings are from the American Standard Version, but whenever something doesn’t sound quite right, I always go to my KJV and rely on it as the benchmark.  Nothing compares to the KJV for public readings, and its Psalms are by far the most beautiful.

April 26, 4:58 pm | [comment link]
4. cseitz wrote:

I guess this is what is called postmodernism. Being told how God speaks by someone who does not believe he exists. Is the RSV somehow also too ‘matey’ for McGrath? Or is the idea that God is always Olde Speeche in the nature of the case? “oftimes he betook himself thither” is how the KJV refers to the garden of gethsemane in the Fourth Gospel. Why does this narrator-talk (it isn’t God speaking) warrant our approbation any more than newer translations?

April 26, 5:33 pm | [comment link]
5. MichaelA wrote:

One of the reasons that there was so little fighting is that 70-90% of the KJV is the work of one man, who was executed almost a century before the KJV was created - William Tyndale.

April 26, 8:23 pm | [comment link]
6. Larry Morse wrote:

Why so many attacks - why so much to do - over the KJV? What’s the biog deal? Larry

April 27, 9:26 am | [comment link]
7. Pageantmaster ن wrote:

I think what is interesting is the amount of attention being paid to the AV this year by all sorts of writers outside the church.  That must be a good thing, and a little suprising.

April 27, 6:17 pm | [comment link]
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