Monday, June 04, 2007

How Did We Get Our English Bible

Lesson 03, King James and such

In 1603, Queen Elizabeth died and James VI of Scotland became James I of England. He called for convocation of the religious leaders (of which he was now the chief). That group decided that a new English translation was in order. The churches were all using the official translation known as "The Great Bible" which was chained to the pulpits. However, the people preferred the "Geneva Bible." Its Calvinistic notes were incredibly popular, and the translation was far preferable. The king and clergy did not like the Geneva Bible for a variety of reasons -- it was not made in England and it was seen as subversive of the establishment, emphasizing the priesthood of all believers. For example, one note from Exodus 1.19 says that Hebrew midwives acted morally when they disobeyed the king and refused to kill their baby boys.

So, James authorized another "official" translation of the Church of England. He appointed 47 translators to the task (he didn't do any translation himself). Even though it was supposed to be a completely new translation from the original Greek and Hebrew, it was mostly a revision/compilation of a variety of previously published English translations, all of which relied heavily on Tyndale's work. In places where Tyndale did not translate, the KJV normally follows the Geneva Bible. In fact, in the original introduction, there are several Bible quotations, and they are all from the Geneva Bible, not the KJV. In a few places, the translators departed from Tyndale's language -- when they did so, they made the English more elegant at the (slight) cost of Tyndale's accuracy. The translators used the Greek and Hebrew texts, but were more interested in following English versions. In fact, in at least 10 places, it follows the Latin Vulgate (as in the English Rheims-Douai) where there is no evidence of any Greek manuscripts whatsoever.

The "Authorized Version" was completed in 1611, and revisions started in the middle of the first printing when typographical errors were caught. The second edition began printing before first was completed, and apparently the two versions got mixed up in binding the pages into books. There were 14 revisions in the first 3 years. Since 1611, it has seen nearly 100,000 changes.

Originally, the KJV received mixed reviews. It was (and is) amazingly elegant from an English language standpoint. Some have said it is the greatest literary achievement in the English lanuguage. However, it was critisized at first for being too easy to understand, too "dumbed-down" and disrespectful (mostly by Catholics, not the Anglicans). It did not gain popularity for several decades. This version represented "the aristocracy" for the common English Christians who still loved and preferred the Geneva Bible. This is part of the disagreement of the Puritans who finally left to the New World.

However, in time, the KJV became overwhelmingly popular. In England it became patriotic to use the KJV, and eventually, the KJV has become the best-selling book of all time. It is the only book with more than one billion copies printed (1,000,000,000+). Gideons International gives away one million copies of the Bible every 6 days, mostly the KJV. The KJV differs from most other modern translations in many points. Here are a few examples, but you'll have to wait until later lessons to understand the differences (a shameless plug).

The NIV does not contain these verses which are in the NIV: Matthew 17.21, Matthew 18.11, Matthew 23.14, Mark 7.16, Mark 9.44, Mark 9.46, Mark 11.26, Mark 15.28, Luke 23.17, John 5.4, Acts 8.37, Acts 28.29, and Romans 16.24.

Matthew 16.13
NIV, And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
KJV, 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.

Luke 9.56
NIV, and they went to another village.
KJV, For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.

After the Authorized Version of 1611 caught on, there was not another popular English translation until 1881, the Revised Version. During this time, there were many individuals who published original English translations, but none began to rival the KJV. The Revised Version was a "revision" of the King James and gained some popularity because it used a translation committee (unlike other contemporary translations), and sought to translate more accurately where the KJV was sloppy. Most scholars conceded its accuracy, but still preferred the KJV because of its elegance. The main importance of the Revised Version was that it seemed to launch a movement toward greater accuracy in translation. It is the dawn of a new era in English translations.

After the British Revised Version, American scholars revised the KJV again with the American Standard Version in 1901. People liked it much better, but the translators were so slavishly tied to the original languages, it is very hard to read in English.

It became apparent that it would be more difficult to than previously expected to replace the KJV. In 1946, after 15 years of work, a committee of 32 scholars published the Revised Standard Version, another revision of the KJV. One million copies were sold in the first day, and is still one of the most popular translations available. However, the RSV is also the most hated of all English translations, mostly by religious conservatives.

For example, Isaiah 7.14 in the RSV, "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." In all previous versions, the words "young woman" are rendered "virgin" as in Matthew 1.23. This became proof to many conservative pastors that the RSV was "of the devil." In fact,

Several fundamentalist preachers publicly burned the RSV. One of them took a
blowtorch and in front of his congregation tried to light it on fire. When he had trouble getting it lit, he remarked that it was just like the devil because it was so hard to burn!

Another preacher sent the ashes of the RSV to the senior editor.

1983—I had the opportunity to visit Dr. Bruce Metzger of Princeton Seminary. … While there, he showed me an urn full of ashes. I didn’t know what had been burned, but at first I thought this was a bizarre thing to show a guest. He said, “These are the ashes of the Revised Standard Version Bible.” Dr. Metzger had inherited the ashes from the previous senior editor. He quipped, “I am grateful to be a Bible translator in the 20th century. Nowadays, they only burn the translations rather than the translators!” But he quickly added that it was a terrible shame that people would treat the Word of God the way this preacher did.

Isaiah 7.14 in the RSV became the most divisive verse in 20th century translations. This text was a watershed for orthodoxy. The Hebrew word that the RSV translated as ‘young woman’ and that the KJV had translated as virgin was the word ALMAH. The debates raged so much in the churches across America that one observer noted that ALMAH had become the most recognized Hebrew word in the country! The conservative reaction to the RSV’s translation of this one word gave birth to the NASB, the NIV, and a host of other translations.[1]

The New American Standard Bible was finished in 1971 as a reaction against the RSV. It was updated in 1995, but is still very wooden and difficult to understand. It works well for people who have studied Greek and Hebrew and can "see" these originals in word order and syntax presented in the NASB, but for the average reader it is quite difficult to understand in many places. It is a revision of American Standard Version (1901).

The British New English Bible of 1970 was the first completely new English version since William Tyndale in the early 1500's. It was quite free in it's translation, which was a new idea, and since it was the first new work, there were a lot of things that "didn't sound right" even though the NEB caught the meaning better than "what we're used to hearing." For example, John 1.1, "In the beginning the Word already was. The Word was in God's presence, and what God was, the Word was."

The New International Version claims to be "international" but the 100(!) scholars that worked on the translation were almost all American. The translation took 13 years and was finished in 1978. It is now the most popular book in the world. Reacting against the KJV and the NASB, it is incredibly readable, which becomes its weakness in some places (see 1 Peter 5.6-7).

The New King James Bible tried to "update" the old KJV in 1983, but was considered a flop almost from the very beginning. Many of the textual problems of the KJV are continued here despite the translators' acknowledgment that the Greek text used is inferior. More on this when we return to an introduction to textual criticism.

The New Revised Standard Version of 1989 was a great update of the RSV. Overall, it improved and updated a lot of language that was out of date, and words that had shifted meaning. In updating the gender-inclusive language (which was certainly in order), it seemed to bend the meaning too much in many gender-specific passages. This kind of "stretching" the meaning is uncharacteristic of the translation generally, but the translators seem especially intent on being gender-inclusive, however,

it could have gone much, much further. When the NRSV was getting under way, one of the translators on the committee suggested that God be treated as a woman. If this suggestion had been approved, the Lord’s Prayer would have begun, “Our Mother who is in heaven”! The Great Commission would be: “Baptize them in the name of the Mother, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”!
Dr. Bruce Metzger, who was the chairman of the committee, dealt with this issue swiftly and decisively. Now, Dr. Metzger is a conservative Christian, and a diplomatic genius. He could sell ice cubes to eskimos; he could tell you to go to hell and make you look forward to the trip!
So he responded to this woman translator: “Yes, I believe we should call God a ‘she.’ … And we should call the devil a she, too!” That was the end of the discussion.
Overall, the NRSV is an excellent translation whose only real flaw is its gender-inclusive thrust. Not only does this change the meaning of the text in some places, but it also is bad English style. [2]

The English Standard Version of 2001 is another revision of the RSV in contrast to the NRSV. Some say it is trying to be the NRSV without the gender-inclusive language -- perhaps. It is marketed as a middle ground between the NIV and the NASB. More accurate than the NIV, more readable than the NASB, and I think this is true.

The NET Bible was also published in 2001. A few unique features -- it is copyright free, and so very reasonably priced. It has over 60,000 translators' notes that go with the text to help explain the original text. It uses the internet media effectively to "beta-test" its updates and notes. I like this version the best by far.

Which one is right for you? The one you'll read.

[1] From Daniel B. Wallace, "Part IV:Why So Many Versions?" online at Dr. Wallace was a professor of mine at Dallas Seminary and I remember him relaying this story to us in class.
[2] Wallace, "Why So Many Versions."

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Blogger nickg said...

There is a nice new edition of the 1599 Geneva Bible that was recently released. I think the name of the publisher is Tolle Lege Press or something like that. It has some introductory materials and it's basically a regular study Bible, but all the notes are from Reformation-era Calvinist dudes.

When I studied a lot of Shakespeare in college I used the Geneva Bible a lot and I always thought it was kind of cool (even though I know the KJV is the only inspired version...if it was good enough for St. Paul, it's good enough for me).

12:15 AM, June 07, 2007  

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